The Freedom Machine on the Road

One of the great joys (in my opinion) of being a filmmaker is getting to do Q&As. During the tour of my debut archival film The Freedom Machine I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to many of Scotland’s independent and community cinemas to participate in post screening Q&As.

Each visit has been entirely different, and yet each has given me unique insight into how cinemas across Scotland cater to their local communities.

As I’ve travelled across Scotland, from the Highlands to the Borders, each Q&A I’ve attended has been unique, from the questions asked, to the conversations sparked. Some have used The Freedom Machine to discuss archives and memory, some have been about cycling and women’s stories and some have focused on the filmmaking process. Whether it’s been a sold-out screening or a screening of just six people, the Q&As have been lively, thought-provoking and enjoyable.

These in-person Q&A screenings were a chance to forge deeper connections within the cinema space, and encourage audiences to really reflect on what they’ve just watched. Additionally, the informal conversations I have had with audience members and volunteers after the screenings have been just as enlightening and delightful as the structured Q&As. Being able to have and help facilitate these conversations across Scotland has been a wonderful experience.

Each cinema has approached their screening differently. The Hippodrome in Bo’ness invited local cycling groups and hosted a Q&A with myself and a representative from Infrasisters, a cycling organisation that looks to make night-time cycling safer for women. This focus on the material reality of cycling for women shaped the Q&A, and led to an interesting conversation on how to create and maintain better cycling infrastructure and culture for women in Scotland.

Penicuik Community Cinema used the tour as an opportunity to celebrate local filmmakers, screening The Freedom Machine including Gerda Stevenson’s The Storm Watchers. As someone who grew up near Penicuik, it was lovely to bring The Freedom Machine home and have it used as a chance to spotlight other local filmmakers.

What has stood out for me the most in this experience is the way local cinemas will go above and beyond to make me feel welcome. From arranging lifts to train stations to offering cups of tea and a chat, I have felt the care and kindness that cinemas across Scotland give to not just me but to their audiences too.

Attending these Q&As have not only given me new perspectives on my own film but has rejuvenated me as a filmmaker and curator, making me excited to continue creating and sharing my work across Scotland. Q&As are so much more than just an add on to a screening, they are a chance to experience the work in a new way, forge connections with local organisations and artists and provide a new way to share and celebrate film. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit some of these remarkable cinemas during this tour, and I am so excited for the screenings yet to come!

Scottish film curator Jo Reid is director of The Freedom Machine, an archive film celebrating the bicycle. Premiering at Glasgow Film Festival 2023, it features 120 years of archival material provided by the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive and archives across the UK. The footage is accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack from sound designer Catherine Hawthorne. The Freedom Machine is supported by Glasgow Life UCI Cycling World Championships, Film Hub Scotland and Glasgow Film Festival.