FilmMerton launched at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Monday with a diverse melting pot of performances from across the borough.
Merton was awarded a cultural impact award by the Mayor of London as part of the London Borough of Culture 2019 and will be running 24 seasons of films, half featuring community groups, throughout the next year, culminating in an ambitious immersive technology festival in Mitcham.
Highlights of launch night included BAC Beatbox Academy’s opening set, an enlightening interview with FilmMerton’s manager of programming Maureen McKarkiel and a collection of good luck messages from David Walliams among other famous faces.
The range of culture that exists throughout Merton was personified by the variety of performers who graced the stage – from the Greensleeves Morris Men to a performance poet and string quartet – underlining Merton council leader Stephen Alambritis’s on-stage call for FilmMerton to bridge the gap and show a balancing of resources across all areas, Mitcham in particular.
This was also echoed by Merton-born activist Cindy Sasha – who has worked alongside Dame Vivienne Westwood – and she explained how FilmMerton projects have the potential to change attitudes around the borough.
“We need it to inspire a community and build bridges between rich and poor,” she said.
“We need to create spaces around Merton for people to hang out and have that freedom.
“I’m bored of my friends saying, ‘What is there to do in Merton?’”
“Bringing communities together will make society work better for everybody,” said John Merriman, chair of MertonCulture, Merton’s newly formed independent cultural advisory group.
“Culture is the greatest vehicle for bringing communities together, and film, probably the easiest for people to access.”
Any community can apply to turn a disused space in the area into a location for film nights as part of the scheme to create culture throughout Merton and Mrs McKarkiel highlighted the unique escapism that film can offer.
“Horror films were less terrifying than walking past graffiti telling me to go home,” she said.
“Films made me believe I had a say in how I wanted to live and be who I wanted to be.
“Films can show us as a community with everyone included. Without the community’s involvement, there is no FilmMerton. I want to hear about your stories.”