Barbican Young Film Programmers

Lindsay O’Nions – Creative Learning Curator, Barbican


The Barbican Young Film Programmers group has been running since 2012 and is for around 12 young people aged between 16-25.

As a Young Film Programmer, members are equipped with the skills to put on film events, find out exactly what it takes to create their own cinema event and to spend quality time with a group of people who are as enthusiastic about film as they are.

Course Leader Suzy Gillett has worked in independent film for over twenty-five years as a curator, producer and educator. She is an expert in nurturing and empowering emerging film talent. For each monthly meeting, she is joined by Barbican Curators or film industry guests.

During the six month course, the group is required to watch many films from around the world, widening and honing their tastes and acquiring programming skills, moving on to collectively programme, market and deliver Chronic Youth film events either online or at the Barbican Cinema.

They are given a subscription to Festival Scope and occasional free tickets to watch films on the Barbican Cinema on Demand platform.

What are the specific aims for the group?

  • To bring young voices and perspectives to the programme to diversify the programming.
  • To give young people transferable skills in programming film, collaborative working,
    marketing and communications, event management and public speaking.
  • To genuinely hand over curatorial control and decision making to the Barbican Young Film Programmers.
  • To provide networking and mentoring opportunities to the young people.


How do you recruit the young people?

Open call via our website, the Young Barbican scheme, outreach contacts, young people’s networks, colleges, youth centres, charities, mailing lists, young people’s opportunity sites, peer organisations’ networks.  We go as wide as possible.

There is a taster day and a recruitment day.  Application can be in writing or a recording or video.  A number is made available for any queries or advice/help filling in the application.

Who manages the group?

The Creative Learning Curator and Assistant Producer. The group mentor is Suzy Gillett.
We work closely with the cinema, marketing and press teams.

Age of the group members – why this range?

16-25. We recruit over 15 year olds so that 15 films can be programmed. In reality we get largely 20+ applying.  The Barbican has a remit to work with this age range and it mirrors other schemes and offers.

How often does the group meet?

At least 2 times a month, up to weekly at busy times.

How do you structure the sessions

Do you do a lot of planning in advance, bring in industry experts for masterclass sessions, organise trips etc?

Yes, all of the above. Barbican Creative Learning staff and the mentor Suzy Gillett always
attend. Other members of Barbican staff attend for updates or to hear plans. We also have an industry guest speaker on average once per month. These are selected in consultation with the group.

We organise trips to the Barbican Cinema but also other venues, screening days and festivals. We do plan in advance, create an agenda and take notes as there is always a lot to discuss. We leave flexibility in the sessions to be responsive.

Do you offer any incentives?

To apply everyone has to be a Young Barbican member which gives discounts and offers.  Free tickets and outings are also organised. We always provide free tea, coffee, cordial/squash, biscuits and fruit. Occasionally we have a pizza night (not so much recently as we have been online a lot).  At the end we have a debrief, next steps planning and a celebratory meal.

Will you be maintaining a hybrid format or going back to in person only?

In person as much as possible as the young people have been requesting it.  However, hybrid enabled us to recruit further afield which was a real benefit.  Whenever we have an in-person session, we set the room up to enable people to join remotely and have invested in time and equipment planning this to make it possible.

How long do the Young Programmers stay with you?

Do you recruit every year or on an adhoc basis?

Usually 1 year. This year we invited alumni back from the last 2 years as they had been the years affected by the pandemic. Although their screenings happened in a mixture of online and in-venue events, we wanted them to have the chance to run a full in-venue festival.

How embedded is this activity in your organisation?

Do they have access to all the teams/departments i.e. marketing, senior leadership, tech team?

Yes. It’s very embedded and a joint venture between cinema, marketing and creative learning.  They do also have an opportunity to meet the tech team and are consulted by senior leadership and other departments.

What value to you think the group brings to Barbican’s offer?

The group’s programming enriches the barbican’s offer.  The young film programmers’ festival programming diversifies voice and perspectives audiences can access. We learn a lot from the programmers and they learn from the experience.


“For me, Barbican Young Programmers was a rare opportunity with real stakes, emphasising learning-by-doing and eventually putting what was purely hypothetical into practice outside of the classroom. Guided, mentored, and trusted to actually realise our own events (putting together a real-life film festival) this kind of experiential, hands-on learning forced us to tackle all sorts of practical problems as and when they arose: negotiating and sourcing licences, screening materials, subtitles. After my two years on the course had ended, I felt prepared and enthusiastic to continue programming.”

“I was able to get a new job almost entirely on the back of being a Young Programmer and the things I’d learned having been part of the programme.  It has given me confidence, motivation and the aptitude to move far closer to places I’d like to be.  For me the course has been priceless and a real personal asset.  This can only be attributed to the generosity of the Barbican (which astounds me) and the unfaltering care and passion which I have received from each one of the course leaders.”

You can find more information on the programme here. Here is a blog post from two of the young film programmers in 2017.