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TOM’s Film Club: An Interview with Michael McDermott

The Old Market, or ‘TOM’ as staff and regulars affectionately know it, is a multi-arts venue in Brighton with a colourful past and a big reputation for programming a consistently strong range of events and shows. This year saw the start of TOM’s Film Club, programmed by life-long Brighton resident and cinephile Michael McDermott. Given how big a fan Culture Calling is of TOM, we thought it only right to catch up with Michael about their latest venture.

You can’t beat a good film club. These days, with vast banks of movies available online through streaming services, there’s something so appealing about a carefully curated programme of films. The social aspect of movie watching is another big draw. The Old Market has launched TOM’s Film Club for exactly these reasons. Film Programmer Michael McDermott says that starting the club was an easy decision. “TOM’s film club started because Steve, one of the owners, is a film fanatic. When Steve and Luke bought TOM they didn’t just want to do music, theatre, comedy etc: they wanted to start a few monthly clubs as well. I was freelance film programming in Brighton and they didn’t really know how to start it up. They had a projector and a screen, and we just said: ‘let’s make this film club happen’”.
Film has always been a big part of McDermott’s life, and the line-up for TOM’s Film Club reflects this keen interest, boasting a varied programme of cult classics and forgotten gems. “The first film I remember watching was Jurassic Park at the Duke of York’s Cinema. Since then, I’ve always loved film. I studied it at the University of Sussex, and have been freelance film programming or script editing wherever I’ve gone.”
The stand out event in TOM’s season so far is a screening of Ken Loach’s modern masterpiece I, Daniel Blake. “It’s an important film, one that deserves to be in as many screens as possible because everyone should watch it. It’s got such a strong, powerful and – given the circumstances we live in – bleak message.” TOM have partnered with food charity FareShare Sussex for the screening, a UK charity with various hubs around the country that collect surplus food from food companies and distribute it amongst local charities. It’s a fantastic charity with a clear link to Loach’s film. “There’s a scene in a food bank that breaks my heart. It made me think of FareShare Sussex, who do so many wonderful things for food banks and help vulnerable people and communities who don’t readily have the finance for food. A film like I, Daniel Blake should have importance and stand for something. So we felt we had to do something with it. We wanted to do a charity event, and FareShare Sussex were the perfect company to do it with.”
Looking further down the line, TOM is also showing Kes and The Wind That Shakes The Barley as part of a season of Ken Loach’s films. The Love Witch is showing in collaboration with nationwide DIY film festival Scalarama, followed by A New Leaf, a “really funny, really underrated 1971 comedy directed by Elaine May with Walter Matthau in one of his best performances”. Dystopian thriller Ex Machina then plays as part of TOM’s digital festival before Under the Shadow is screened for Halloween. “It came out last year but didn’t get played in cinemas for very long, so we’re trying to give it a new lease of life. Then, in November, we’ve got our audience requested films. We have Forbidden Planet, a 1950s sci-fi film starring Leslie Nielson before he did The Naked Gun, which is funny to watch as he’s playing it very straight!” Last up is Underground, a “mad, zany Serbian film spanning WW2 all the way up to the Yugoslav wars in the early 90s. There’s a lot of silent movie-esque slapstick in it, and afterwards we have Beggars Belief playing. People can stay for a drink and listen to live music that’s reminiscent of the film they’ve just seen.”
McDermott’s passion for film is evident as we chat, as is his desire to establish TOM’s Film Club within the local community. “I’ve been in Brighton all my life, and Hove in particular has such a rich film history. A lot of the early film techniques are said to have developed in Hove, and a lot of early film pioneers lived here. There used to be so many cinemas in Hove but they all closed in the 70s. Since then we’ve had a few cinemas in Brighton but nowhere with a big screen in Hove. I never really had a local cinema, so this is an alternative for people that can’t readily go to Brighton. It was a big thing to bring that cinematic, immersive atmosphere back to Hove – where film techniques like close-up originated.”
So, as a long term Brighton resident, what are some of McDermott’s favourite local haunts? “I actually love The Haunt! They do a great night that’s always set 30 years ago – right now it’s 1987 – and a lot of good gigs and parties. Iydea is a vegetarian/vegan place, and one of my favourite places to eat. It’s in the North Lanes, which is a really great place. You’ve also got Snooper’s Paradise and Resident Records there, right opposite each other. The North Lanes are just a great place to be”.
TOM’s Film Club runs at The Old Market on Upper Market Street, BN3 1AS. Individual film tickets cost £6, or you can bundle two films together for £10. A season pass is £24.