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Starting a Film Society

  • Are you an avid and enthusiastic film viewer?
  • Would you like to get together with other people who share your interest in film? 
  • Would you like the opportunity to program films you wish to see on a regular basis? 
  • Why not start a film society?

There has been a lively and active film society culture in Australia for over fifty years and now, in the 21st Century, many people are rediscovering the unique experience offered by watching films on 16mm.

Establishing a film society is quite simple. This guide outlines most of the issues to consider and provides details of how to access 16mm and 35mm feature films from ACMI.

Those wishing to set up a film society are also encouraged to contact the Australian Council of Film Societies.

What is a film society? 

  • A non-profit, voluntary community group formed by a group of enthusiastic film viewers
  • Consists of members who pay a membership fee.

How do I structure my membership fees? 

  • Membership to any society is by the payment of an annual fee
  • In recent times societies have begun to offer half yearly and three month memberships in addition to annual.

Can I offer memberships for a shorter period than three months?

  • Unfortunately not (if you wish to access 16mm and 35mm feature films from ACMI). 
  • Also, anything less than three months can be seen by distributors and exhibitors as competing with commercial interests.

Can a film society be free?

  • In some instances the operating costs of a film society can be subsidised by a grant from local government or other community organisations making it possible for membership to the society to be 'free'. 
  • It is, however, important for the society to keep up to date records of all its registered members and meet all the other criteria of what a constitutes a film society. 
  • Where membership is free, the choice of venue for film society screenings is important. Providing 'free screenings' on a commercial premises, such as a café, bar or pub is not permitted with films from ACMI.

Can I ask for a 'gold coin' donation for screenings?

  • Unfortunately not as any amount asked for admission constitutes an admission fee and makes the screening commercial.

How often can I screen films? 

  • ACMI policy states that the film can only be screened once and then returned. 
  • Most film societies screen one program per week, fortnightly or monthly.

How is it possible for us to show 16mm prints at film society screenings?

  • When acquiring 16mm prints, ACMI negotiates with distributors to acquire non-theatrical rights making it possible for us to lend to film societies. This means that the film societies themselves do not need to clear copyright for their normal screenings to members.

Is it possible to show videos of feature films at film society screenings?

  • The copyright covering most feature films on video states that they are for 'home and/or individual use only' thus precluding film society screenings.
  • There are some videos that can be screened by film societies. Any questions should be directed to ACMI staff at the time of booking.

Is it possible for members to bring guests to screenings?

  • Yes it is possible for members to bring one guest to a screening.
  • The policy for the number of guests per year that a member can bring must be set out in the film society's constitution.
  • If a guest comes to more than one screening they should join as a member.

Is there an age limit for people coming to film society screenings?

  • Film society screenings are generally for people over the age of 18.
  • Access to ACMI's 16mm and 35mm feature films are only available to organisers 18 years and over.

How can I publicise my film society?

  • All publicly distributed marketing material for the film society should contain the words 'this is a film society screening open to members'.
  • It is also important to acknowledge the source of the print being screened on any material produced.

Is possible to hold a 'special public screening' to promote the Film Society?

  • Yes, but copyright clearance will need to be obtained from the rights holder.
  • ACMI sometimes provides films for special screening. This is on a case-by-case and infrequent basis. In these instances written copyright clearance must be provided before the print can be despatched.

What forms do I need to complete to access 16mm and 35mm feature films?

What else do I need to provide to access 16mm and 35mm feature films as a Film Society?

  • A constitution for your film society outlining your goals and objectives and who your office bearers will be. Contact the Australian Council Of Film Societies for further information.
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