OPEN CINEMA came into being through the collaborative efforts of several Victoria filmmakers and organizations. Inspired by Mandy Leith‘s passion to create a community event that would provide an outlet for socio-political documentaries struggling to find their audiences, OPEN CINEMA was co-founded in July 2003 with filmmakers Mandy Leith, Garfield L. Miller, Erin Brown and Bill Weaver.

Mandy‘s 20 years of experience as a documentary filmmaker and editor gave her an understanding of film‘s power to inspire, educate and mobilize people, while the passive screening conditions provided by both television and cinema were not conducive to community participation.

Fuelled by the support of like-minded media professionals at Hollyhock‘s annual Media that Matters conference, Mandy became convinced that the increasingly alienating corporate and broadcast distribution models needed to be re-examined. She believed that what was missing from the equation was community involvement and interaction, reminiscent of the cafe culture of 1920s Paris and the time-honoured NFB tradition of travelling projectionists visiting libraries, schools, church halls and community centres across the country.

Inspired by the recent popularity of Conversation Cafes, Mandy decided that the time was right to revive the lost art of conversation and combine it with 21st century technology to create a grassroots network of screening events that would use film screenings as a catalyst for discussion and community-building.

During the summer of 2003, she and founding members Garfield L. Miller, Erin Brown, Amanda Heffelfinger, Zsolt Sandor and Bryan Skinner met weekly to brainstorm these ideas, and OPEN CINEMA was born. Practical advice and background support were generously provided by Bobie Taffe, David Springbett, Dianne Searle and Sherry Lepage.

On September 23rd 2003, OPEN CINEMA successfully launched with Michelle Mason‘s moving documentary The Friendship Village (Cypress Park Productions) which was followed by a lively and intimate discussion, and it was immediately clear that this unique event was bringing a fresh new approach to the screening experience.

Since then, audience numbers, programming ideas and positive feedback have been steadily growing. OPEN CINEMA is attracting interest and support from the filmmaking community, grassroots organizations and local businesses alike.

OPEN CINEMA was incorporated as a non-profit society in November 2003, until 2008 it was governed by a volunteer working Board of Directors and an ex-officio Executive Director.

In 2008, OPEN CINEMA became a program of MediaNet. This elegant transition has allowed OPEN CINEMA to continue to grow and thrive. In 2011, Michael D. Reid referred to OPEN CINEMA as “one of Victoria’s most successful cultural enterprises.” (April 2011, Times Colonist)