BFI Distribution announces today that 5 January 2024 will be the UK and Ireland cinema release date for SCALA!!! Or, the incredibly strange rise and fall of the world’s wildest cinema and how it influenced a mixed-up generation of weirdos and misfits, directed by Jane Giles and Ali Catterall, their film debut. SCALA!!!, based on the book Scala Cinema 1978-1993 (2018, FAB Press) by former programme manager Jane Giles, is an anarchic, uproarious, and ultimately heart-breaking documentary telling the riotous inside story of London’s legendary Scala cinema.
Ahead of the UK-wide release, it has its UK Premiere at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express, screening on Saturday 14 October (BFI Southbank NFT1) and Sunday 15 October (Prince Charles Cinema). Running alongside the theatrical release will be a season at BFI Southbank, bringing many of the Scala’s greatest hits back to the big screen. SCALA!!! will be available digitally on BFI Player and released on BFI Blu-ray on 22 January 2024.
During the politically tumultuous period known as Britain’s post-punk ‘Thatcher years,’ the Scala cinema, originally located in Fitzrovia before it moved to King’s Cross, served as a hugely significant cultural hub, drawing in over a million visitors from across the UK. And as SCALA!!! shows, though operating for just 15 years, from 1978 to 1993, this short-lived but iconic venue would leave an indelible mark on an entire generation.
With its daily changing double-feature screenings, and unforgettable All-Nighters, the Scala’s programming featured a diverse range of films, from high art to cult classics, sexploitation, horror, Kung-Fu and LGBTQIA+, everything shown in rare, well-worn 35mm and 16mm prints. The cinema’s lineup regularly showcased alternative auteurs such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Walerian Borowczyk, Russ Meyer, John Waters, Derek Jarman, and David Lynch, among many others who challenged the boundaries of taste and convention.
In SCALA!!!, previously unseen archive footage, photography, film clips, and newly commissioned graphics and animation bring the Scala cinema back to life, in addition to revealing and frequently hilarious interviews with nearly 50 audience members and original Scala staff, who share their personal memories of the cinema and its profound significance on their lives and future careers, whether as actors, activists, artists, comedians, filmmakers, musicians and writers. Among those interviewed are Barry Adamson, John Akomfrah, Ralph Brown, Adam Buxton, Caroline Catz, Mary Harron, Matt Johnson, Princess Julia, Isaac Julien, Nick Kent, Beeban Kidron, Stewart Lee, Mark Moore, Thurston Moore, James O’Brien, Paul Putner, JoAnne Sellar, Peter Strickland, Cathi Unsworth, Ben Wheatley, Jah Wobble, Stephen Woolley and John Waters.
Through the lens of the Scala cinema, the film reveals universal themes such as youthful discoveries, creative inspiration, and the influence of atmospheric bricks and mortar as a focal point for not only cinematic experiences but personal growth, finding one’s tribe, and political awakenings. The documentary also shows how a deep respect and understanding of local community was key to the Scala’s reputation, while its support for oppressed groups and outsiders resulted in regular benefit screenings for everything from the Miners’ Strike to the fledgling Terrence Higgins Trust.
The documentary features an original soundtrack by the legendary New Wave musician Barry Adamson, a founding member of Magazine, Visage, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and whose film scores include Derek Jarman’s The Last of England, David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Danny Boyle’s The Beach, and Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life. Adamson also appears as an interviewee, describing how the experience of the Scala helped shape his creative vision.
Transcending mere nostalgia, SCALA!!! serves as a universal testament to the power of cinemas in inspiring impressionable young minds and fostering a sense of community for outsiders—a place where everyone is welcomed.
Jane Giles and Ali Catterall, co-directors said: “Our debut is an X-rated big screen love letter not only to the white goddess of King’s Cross but to the dizzy highs and depraved lows of a universally relatable cinema-going experience. For many disaffected young people, the Scala was a film school, foundation stone, and family. A crucial part of our DNA. A lifeline. A place to come out and stay out, All-Night long. We hope new generations of filmgoers and filmmakers will be equally inspired by its incredibly strange story.”
Jason Wood, BFI Director of Public Programme and Audiences said: “Recent events like the Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll and accompanying BFI Southbank programme and the BFI’s Film on Film Festival have reminded us how much cinema culture matters. It did to me growing up in London in the 80s and 90s when it was a window to the world, and there was no greater view than from the Scala. The Scala showed that it was OK to like “entertainment”, the Avant-Garde and more risqué material. It all carried equal gravitas. Jane and Ali’s film captures this and the sense of community that existed. It feels like being back in King’s Cross.”
A 50-Foot Woman production, SCALA!!! is produced by Alan Marke and Jim Reid of Channel X and Andy Starke of Anti-Worlds. It was made with funds from BFI Doc Society Fund (awarding National Lottery funding) and a Kickstarter crowdfunder of 400+ supporters.