Venue Case Studies

 Balik Arts Centre, Cambridge

Balik Arts has been working with young people and film for nearly 24 years. From the very beginning our projects focused on how film could give young people a voice, stimulate debate and be a means to engage with young people who were feeling marginalised for myriad reasons.  In 2018, we established Taste of Anatolia, a film festival that aimed to showcase independent cinema from Turkey in the UK. From the start we wanted our festival to be youth focused, prioritising films from young directors and featuring young people. Furthermore in 2020, we launched Balik Arts TV, our own online film platform. Naturally, in line with our ethos, we wanted programming for both these initiatives to be youth-led.

Why We Started This Work

It was important for Balik Arts that our Young Film Programmers group should have manifold benefits for its members.  Firstly, we wanted to provide opportunities for young people to learn about the independent film industry, how it operates and how they can enter and progress in the sector.  Secondly, we wished to foster an appreciation for independent cinema in young people by providing an introduction to films and the chance to view, critique and enjoy them with their peers. Thirdly, involving young people in programming would be a catalyst to encourage others to watch independent films.

We already had a fledgling group of young people who were interested in programming and film events and to expand on this we announced the group on social media and recruited by word of mouth. The latter was particularly effective in reaching a wide range of young people from colleges and universities. The result was a group ranging from film students to those who had never watched an independent film before. The young people were scattered geographically with some even joined us from Turkey where the chance to be involved in such an activity is almost non-existent.

At the start, we felt it was important to give everyone who signed up a thorough grounding in film and events to ensure they felt knowledgeable and confident to choose and screen films to the public.  Then with funding from Film Hub South East we were able to run an online training course between December 2021 and March 2022 with a variety of guest tutors. In addition to the training course, the group greatly benefited from participating in the regular BFI Film Academy Labs.  Then the culmination of the training was an online screening of the film “Papicha” (Mounia Meddour 2019) with a Q&A.

Our Planning and Approach

Over Summer 2022, the group were immersed in programming for the 4th edition of our Taste of Anatolia festival.  This was an intensive period with hundreds of films to watch and consider for screening.  The group developed a flexible format with online meetings taking place weekly to fortnightly while frequent, often daily, communications happened through a dedicated messaging group. In November, Taste of Anatolia screened a total of 42 films in seven different locations along with providing online streaming. In addition, several of our young programmers took part in our Film Beyond Borders project that enabled them to develop first-hand the skills required to put on a film festival alongside participants from Italy and Turkey.

2023 has seen Balik Arts provide two paid Young Film Programmer Internships, again with the support of Film Hub South East. The interns have taken the lead with the Young Film Programmers Group and this month put on a successful screening of the film “Rocks” (Sarah Gavron 2019) in Cambridge. Now looking forward to the rest of the year, the group are gathering online to prepare the call for submissions for the 5th edition of Taste of Anatolia and ready themselves for a whole new season of selection and programming.


Of course, not all has been wine and roses with our young film programmer experience. Our group has a large geographical spread so it is not easy to meet together in person. Members are often students and/or working and so have many demands on their time. Zoom has been our friend here and helped us remove these barriers and bring the group together. It is fair to say that being online has made the group more accessible to young people in removing the complications and expense of travel.  One issue we have yet to fully resolve is screening venues. In post-pandemic Cambridge these are costly with few offering space for free or even at reduced rates.  We have worked to address this by forging new partnerships, for example with Cambridge World Cinema Society.


Our Young Film Programmers Group has greatly enhanced Balik Arts activities for young people and provided them with new skills, enthusiasm and insight into the world of independent cinema screening. This is important at a time when it has been openly recognised that the arts are in danger of becoming the preserve of the well-connected and privileged. For us as an organisation the group has enabled us to fulfil our dream of having youth-led screenings and festival programmes. We are also proud of our groups’ diversity which brings with it richness and vibrancy. The return to in-person screenings and the high-profile involvement of young people at our Taste of Anatolia festival last November was a particular highlight for us and one we hope to repeat this year and continue for many more.

 Yeşim Güzelpınar and Angela Kirk, Balik Arts YFP Coordinators

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