Clare Binns is Acquisitions & Programming Director for the Picturehouse Cinema Group. As well as acquiring titles for Picturehouse Entertainment, she is responsible for overall programming policies. Winner of the 2009 WFTV Award for Contribution to the Medium and 2015 Screen Awards Exhibition Achievement Award, Clare is a member of both the London Film Festival Industry Liaison Committee and the BAFTA Learning and Events Committee. She started in front of house at the Ritzy in Brixton, worked as a projectionist and manager before working in programming. Variety named her one of the 25 people driving the London entertainment scene, and she is no. 70 in The Guardian Film Power 100 list.
It was important for me to go to the film and represent the company I work for, but it also meant I missed my daughter’s birthday.
On your Twitter profile, you say you love family/film/banjo. Can you elaborate – especially on that third love?
I love banjo the same way as I love film and my family. Music and film are very alive in the pleasure that they give people. Banjo is like film in that there’s always something to learn – it’s a creative thing. Film, whatever part you are, there’s something creative and you have to keep learning. I don’t know as much about banjo as I do about film – but I love Steve Martin’s playing very much. He’s a sort of god.
Your job as a programmer entails a lot of festival attendance and evening screenings – how do you manage a work/life balance with having a family?
It’s a nightmare, that’s the only thing I can say. My kids are now grown-ups, 32, 29 and 24, but when your kids are young, it is really, really tough. There were times when we all suffered from the hours we put in. Once I was able to involve my kids in seeing films, going to premieres, and saying this is the upside of me not being there, being at school dates, being home at 7pm, that balanced it out a bit.
I’m sure things have changed to some extent but when I was invited to see James Bond: Spectre by Sony last week, it was a very nice invitation and event, but it was also my daughter’s birthday. It was important for me to go to the film and represent the company I work for, but it also meant I missed my daughter’s birthday. I think it is easier now because to a certain extent Dads are there for those sort of things, whereas it’s no longer totally expected that Mums are there. But there is still an expectation that Mums will attend family events, not Dads.
It’s also worth noting that apart from Barbara Broccoli, I was the only woman in the room. If you want to build your career and your company, you have to be prepared to do all of this – but I’m lucky I have a husband who supports me working long hours, but the industry is not set up for women.
Stop talking to women about childcare, and start talking to men! Why should women be the solution?
What structural and practical changes would make it easier for parents to work in film distribution and exhibition; particularly mothers?
When I was bringing up my kids, I just got on and did it, and now they’re grown up. But I don’t think things have changed that much.
Childcare is very expensive. I figured that, in the first five years for each child, I was working just to pay childcare, not earning anything for myself. I thought it was best to do my work, get fantastic childcare and have someone who was really appreciated. It’s important as part of this that child carers are paid properly and valued because they’re really important.
Certainly during the early years, companies need to be flexible about people working from home as well as the office. And that’s important for both men and for women. In male-dominated companies, they still think women are the main child carers, but men need to have their hours be flexible too – why should it just be women who are taking that on? That needs to run through companies.
How do we make that happen?
The focus should be: stop talking to women about childcare, and start talking to men! Why should women be the solution? It’s often still the man saying that his work is more important when a crisis arises, that he has to go to a meeting, and your work is less important. We should be much more focused on getting men to decide that things need to change.
It’s always about women saying No! That’s the truth. Just say no, I’m not: you do it. Until that starts happening, things will continue as they are.
It’s important for [children] to see role models on screen – although most films are still incredibly conventional.
For new parents, even seeing films can be a struggle. How can we connect more parents and kids with cinema? Are streaming services an answer?
We’ve always done the Big Scream – I think we were the first company to do parent and baby screenings. It’s things like that which help. As far as education is concerned, bringing films to schools for kids, something outside of their experience, it’s about ploughing money into schools so they can afford to bring kids in. It’s very difficult to bring them to the cinema because of the number of carers who need to accompany them. It’s important for them to see role models on screen – although most films are still incredibly conventional.
There’s nothing that’s going to replace being in an audience and watching a film on the big screen; especially not in a full house. But seeing films online is one way of viewing: it’s convenient and the reality is that people will sit at home and watch films online. But cinemas have big screens, nice food and drink, lovely staff and great sound, and it’s about encouraging people to go to the cinema. We just have to make sure what we offer is relevant.
As a programmer, are you seeing contemporary cinema that reflects diverse and equal parenting, and new kinds of families?
The kind of films we’ve always shown at Picturehouse have featured a diverse range of people and families; in the society we live in, more films are beginning to reflect that. But at the same time, you can have a certain picture on screen and harsh reality doesn’t reflect that. If a child gets sick, it’s the mother who goes home.
Always question things: just because it’s the way it’s done, doesn’t mean it’s the way it has to be done.
Do you think that having more filmmakers who are female, some of whom are mothers, will change what stories are being told?
I went to a BFI conference in Manchester for first-time feature makers who had completed a short, and I was really impressed with the diversity of people who were there. I did feel quite hopeful about the future of films that are going to be made. The BFI are taking diversity seriously, although the commercial industry remains male-dominated. Picturehouse is a very female company, but across industry men call the shots.
As someone who has driven change across the industry, do you have any advice for us?
The only thing I would say is don’t be disheartened, don’t give up, and keep pushing. One thing I’m very aware of is that it’s a long game. You have to look at the long game, and with every setback or person who says that’s not possible, you have to keep going. You have to be very determined. There’s no quick solution, that’s all I can say.
And always question things: just because it’s the way it’s done, doesn’t mean it’s the way it has to be done.