Soaring membership for Harrogate Film Society

Reeling in the years - Past programmes of Harrogate Film Society's seasons of diverse films.
Reeling in the years - Past programmes of Harrogate Film Society's seasons of diverse films.

Harrogate Film Society is enjoying an amazing membership boom as its latest season of movies gets into swing.

This high standard group has been successful for 62 years but a recent news article in the Harrogate Advertiser has given it another boost.
HFS chairman Chairman Tony Thorndike said: "We have no doubt that, together with effective team work, the excellent piece in the Advertiser had an effect: 26 new members.
"As a result, our first film of the new season saw 145 attending Spanish movie The Olive Tree, including 26 guests."
On a national scale, these are impressive figures for a town, rather than a city.
The second film of the new programme, The Second Mother, an acclaimed Brazilian comedy-drama to be shown next Monday, September 25, is scarcely what passes for a 'commercial' movie these days.
Then again, in the HFS, Harrogate has a film society that’s a cut above the average, nationally!
It's more than just a group of film enthusiasts watching movies in a nice auditorium.
The HFS is a place of impressive cinematic knowledge and strongly-held opinions which has survived challenges galore.
Harrogate Film Society: controversy
There’s been controversy and disagreement at times yet, in a competitive era of Netflix and box sets, it stills boast a big membership.
Chairman Tony Thorndike said: “The success of Harrogate Film Society is a testament to the strong history of support for and enjoyment of cinema in Harrogate and we’re proud to be part of this history and to be playing a key role.
“We have a strong core of members who have been with us for a long time and have been essential to ensure that our film society has endured over the years when others have folded.
“We like to offer something for everyone, not simply ‘film buffs’.”
Harrogate's cinema history
At one time Harrogate had as many as five cinemas. The arrival last year of plush and trendy newcomer Everyman to add to the veteran Odeon brought it back up to two.
Should general cinema-going disappear after, say, a terrible nuclear armageddon, you get the impression the dedicated members of Harrogate Film Society would preserve the art form single-handedly.
A member of the British Film Institute and the British Federation of Film Societies, it was first launched in 1955 during an era of weighty projectors and 16mm prints.
At the time the biggest movie stars in the world were James Stewart, Grace Kelly and John Wayne.
Membership numbers at Harrogate Film Society currently stand at more than 100, a remarkable figure bearing in mind its approach to choosing films for its programme each new season.
What type of films shown
Heavily international - French movies have been a particular favourite over the years - it’s proud to present a diverse range of films from all over the world, virtually all of them rarely screened in the UK.
This is far from regular these days.
The film society may show popular British and American films occasionally but it has no truck with the family-orientated fayre which seems to dominate the cinema circuit these days - even so-called ‘art house’ cinemas.
Chairman Tony Thorndike said: “Our members tastes are very wide. Films made by Woody Allen and Oliver Stone always appeal, as do British ones, but the majority of the films we screen every season are international with subtitles.
“French films are always deservedly popular but it may come as a surprise that Iranian directors, despite censorship, have been responsible for some great films and always go down well in Harrogate.”
The digital era and moving to a swish new location
It would be a mistake to think that Harrogate Film Society does not move with the movie-going times.
By the late 1990s when the leading box office stars were Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Leonardo diCaprio, it came face-to-face with the reality that good old celluoid was out and digital was in.
The film society saw it as an opportunity to be grabbed.
The change came just in time for new rivals to cinema-going were around the corner in the shape of Sky, Netflix and box sets.
The biggest step in the recent history of Harrogate Film Society was its move from its long-term home at Harrogate Grammar School to Ashville College which provide excellent help and support and purpose-built facilities - with free parking!”
This go-ahead society has also been very supportive of the new Harrogate Film Festival which started this year.
Harrogate Film Society: Membership on the rise
After a minor blip over the past two years, membership at Harrogate Film Society is on the up, as are guest numbers.
The HFS's focus on the social side of cinema is highlighted by its recently-launched ‘Film Club’ where members are free to discuss and debate.
There’s even been disagreements over the choice of films - sexual content was one issue - and whether Harrogate Film Society should be introducing further measures to attract a young audience.
That’s always a sure sign of a healthy organisation!