Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses
A photograph of the Elite cinema in 1974, with a big poster for 1973 Hindi film Chalaak out front.

Wonderland PhD

Ian Francis
Monday 23rd October, 2023 Posted by Ian Francis

Last week applications launched for a new, funded, collaborative doctoral award exploring Birmingham’s suburban cinema stories.

This is a fantastic opportunity for someone to immerse themselves in the story of how cinema helped to shape the streets and social fabric of Birmingham, and to work with the Flatpack team as we plan and deliver the next phase of the project. We’ll co-supervise in partnership with Dr Dave Harte and Professor Rajinder Dudrah from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research at Birmingham City University.

As you can see from the initial call out, there will be a particular focus on suburban venues beyond the city centre, but the successful candidate will have a chance to help refine the research questions underlying this work. This could include an exploration of how the post-war decline in mainstream filmgoing created space for more diverse programming, or a reflection on what neighbourhood cinema looks like today in the age of pop-up film.

If you’re interested in applying, full details are at the Midlands4Cities website. Birmingham City University will require an expression of interest form - please complete this ASAP and send it to M4C@bcu.ac.uk if you want to apply. The deadline for the full application is 10th January 2024. The successful student would start their PhD on 1 October 2024.


Download an FAQ document (Word Doc) here.

If you have any further questions, get in touch with Lead Supervisor Dr Dave Harte at dave.harte@bcu.ac.uk or Ian Francis at Flatpack: ian@flatpackfestival.org.uk.

What is Wonderland?

The Wonderland project was born out of Birmingham’s sun-kissed summer as Commonwealth Games host, and set out to map the city’s film landscape - from fairground beginnings and early pioneers like the Electric on Station Street, to the era of streamlined super-cinemas and the post-war South Asian boom, right up to the present day and established veterans like (you guessed it) the Electric on Station Street. Last year we launched a Wonderland exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (which you can visit virtually on the Wonderland website.) During the six months the exhibition was open we saw 400,000 visitors and a tidal wave of cinema stories. The project continues to evolve...

A map of Birmingham with pin-style markers identifying where cinemas once stood in the city.

We are building an online resource mapping all of the city’s 200+ cinemas. The website is a repository for people’s stories and archival images and programmes. We are chipping away at this mighty task - 36 cinemas and counting! - and already there’s a rich array of material up there. Recent additions include the 30s landmark Sutton Odeon, whose future is currently in question having been shuttered since 2020. Explore the Wonderland website here.

Some of the stories on the website also found their way into a souvenir magazine, beautifully designed by Keith Dodds and showcasing the discoveries of our volunteer team. Plans are afoot to print another run and sell copies through the Flatpack shop - watch this space.

A full house for Amar Akbar Anthony at the Shree Ram Mandir in Sparkbrook
Katja Ogrin

The activity programme played an important part in the project last year, from walks and talks to treasure hunts and reanimated buildings. Since then we’ve seen more neighbourhood cinema walks emerge, including the Soho Road stroll led by Garry Stewart at Flatpack 2023, and back in spring the Shree Ram Mandir in Sparkbrook once again reverted to its original incarnation as the Waldorf cinema for a series of Sunday screenings of Hindi movies. There’s a short film in the works about the Waldorf - watch the teaser here.

Got your own Birmingham cinema story to share? Drop us a line on wonderland@flatpackfestival.org.uk.

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