Secret Cinema Creator Launches Art/Activism Venture LOST, Co-Acquires Ladj Ly’s ‘Les Miserables’ For Debut Event

Tom Grater
·7 min read

EXCLUSIVE: Fabien Riggall, the founder of popular immersive film experience Secret Cinema, has launched new project LOST. Combining activism and art, the initiative will kick off with a series of exclusive UK screenings of Ladj Ly’s socially-charged Oscar-nominated drama Les Misérables, prior to the film’s theatrical release.

The screenings of the movie, which tells the story of poverty, bigotry and social justice in the Parisian suburbs, will take place from August 25 at a series of outdoor venues in London, adhering to full COVID safety guidelines. Alongside the events, a social campaign will highlight the issues depicted in the film, with a goal to encourage debate and action. Riggall is tight-lipped about specific details of the events, as you would expect from the founder of Secret Cinema, but in an interview with Deadline he hinted at what could be in store.

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“We are looking to have people gather in a socially distanced, safe, outdoor space, where the screening will be elevated and heightened in a way people will expect if they know the work I do,” Riggall told us. “Secret Cinema is about becoming part of the story, LOST is blurring being an activist and an audience member – after you watch this powerful movie you can become part of the action.” Scroll down for our full Q&A with Riggall about his new endeavor.

Unconventionally, Les Miserables is not a straight licensing deal with the film’s distributor Altitude (which is releasing the movie in UK cinemas on September 4), instead Riggall has co-acquired the pic’s UK rights. That deal was made by Aerodrome, the parent company behind LOST, and sales agent Wild Bunch.

After the initial event, LOST will be branching out beyond the distribution and exhibition space, with Riggall telling us it is planning to produce projects in house and already has a development slate with established filmmakers and artists.

The Les Miserables screenings will be held in collaboration with Joseph Toonga, curator of Born to Protest and Black youth-led movement A Tribe Named Athari, and high-profile artists and activists including Lethal Bizzle are supporters.

“Hopefully this will break down the doors for more up and coming actors and directors, people that don’t necessarily look like the right ‘fit’. It’s important this story is told, there’s loads of people round the world that can relate to it. It’s authentic. It says ‘there’s something happening here,” said the rapper on Les Miserables.

“This film is for the youth in my community. It’s for young people everywhere. And the LOST campaign is giving young people in this country a chance to do something that will enrich their lives and start a conversation around the conditions in which they live,” added director Ladj Ly.

Tickets for the events will be £27.50 plus booking fee or £10 for those aged 15-18.

Founded in 2007, Secret Cinema stages immersive events that allow attendees to experience the world of a chosen film/TV series in a custom designed setting populated with actors, before watching a screening. The venture grew from small origins to put on large-scale events that were a factor at the UK box office: its 2015 staging of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back grossed $8.5M in ticket sales and was in the UK box office top 10 for 11 weeks, with similarly impressive results for showings of Casino Royale, Stranger Things and Moulin Rogue! The company has deals with Disney and Netflix for future events.

Riggall, who remains involved with Secret Cinema as Chief Creative Officer, says he is trying to flip conventional distribution on its head with LOST, as Secret Cinema did with exhibition. Below, he outlines his vision for an endeavour which he hopes will help to reinvigorate the indie film scene in the UK.

DEADLINE: Tell me about LOST.

FABIEN RIGGALL: I think the future of film, music, art, and TV are all coming together as one. Secret Cinema reimagined the way people watch movies, my vision is about how we can now do that with distribution and original productions. I want this to venture back to a time when independent movies were really provocative, challenging. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing films coming out today but my feeling is that the current system is not rewarding filmmakers, musicians, artists and audiences. Before COVID hit, there were already so many beautiful movies not getting audiences. People are looking for changes in the way work is created and released.

DEADLINE: So it’s not just distribution / exhibition, you’re going to produce too?

RIGGALL: Yes. We’re developing multiple projects with very high level filmmakers. Every filmmaker across the board is looking at form – we’re in discussions with artists and filmmakers who don’t want to make a film, TV, they want to make something different.

DEADLINE: You’re starting with something more conventional, the release of Les Miserables, which I understand you co-acquired UK rights on…

RIGGALL: We teamed up with Altitude to co-acquire the UK rights 50/50. We were looking for a film that would illustrate the kind of provocative and radical filmmaking we want to get behind. It was a perfect film to show how, through the release of a film, we can change something.

DEADLINE: And you’re releasing two weeks before Altitude, do you not have an issue with theatrical windows?

RIGGALL: I’ve been breaking the windows for years with Secret Cinema. Our screenings of Amy, Grand Budapest Hotel, Searching For Sugar Man were all two weeks before release. I believe there’s a new space where you can be quite radical in the way you release films.

DEADLINE: Foreign-language films have been struggling to find audiences in the UK for years, are you hoping you can help to break Les Miserables out?

RIGGALL: Foreign-language films only hit a certain audience – we need to get away from that. I want to uncover the audience that doesn’t believe in going to the cinema anymore. Part of that is the young audience. I want the film industry to start empowering people. We need to radically flip the system to create access to movies. We also need to allow stories to be told from all sections of society. It feels very unbalanced right now, and a big part of the problem is film distribution.

DEADLINE: People will be wondering how you can hold an event like this in the COVID era…

RIGGALL: We are looking to gather people, but in a socially distanced, safe, outdoor space. Secret Cinema was about becoming part of the story, LOST is about blurring being an activist and an audience member. As our trailer says, ‘now it’s real’ [see below]. After you watch the movie, if you’re inspired, you can become part of the action.

Regarding COVID, we are working with an experienced production team and they have developed a whole COVID plan. We’re being very careful and taking it incredibly seriously – but we also believe it is still important to come together as a community around this powerful film.

DEADLINE: Do you know what the next experience might be?

RIGGALL: The next one could be early next year. We are initially starting in the UK but will be expanding into different cities around the world.

DEADLINE: Can you tell us about your business? Do you have backers?

RIGGALL: Behind LOST is a business [Aerodrome] and a plan. We have a certain amount of supporters and investment, there’s a lot of interest coming in but we’re being very selective, we want investors who believe everything has to be reimagined, like we do.

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