Woolwich film festival volunteers upset after Greenwich Council blunder blocks movie over PG rating

The Greatest Showman
Hugh Jackman and cast in The Greatest Showman: Not screening in Woolwich tonight (© 20th Century Fox)

Updated story: Volunteers who run the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival have been left bewildered after Greenwich Council cancelled its opening screening on General Gordon Square’s big screen by mistake – because the movie has a PG rating.

Musical hit The Greatest Showman, inspired by the life of circus impresario PT Barnum, was due to be screened this evening (Friday) in Woolwich town centre to kick off the nine-day festival, which shows films for no charge at various venues across the SE7 and SE18 areas.

But volunteers learned on Thursday evening that council staff had cancelled the screening because the Golden Globe-winning family favourite, which stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams, carries a parental guidance recommendation.

Greenwich Council has apologised for the cancellation, which it put down to confusion over the festival’s licence.

The rest of the festival goes ahead as planned, starting with Yellow Submarine at Shrewsbury House Community Centre, Shooters Hill, tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm.

They had also hoped to show Sister Act on the big screen on Sunday 15 September, but an application for a licence had been refused because the Whoopi Goldberg comedy includes a shooting.

‘An opportunity has been lost’

Volunteer Paul Chapman told 853: “At 3pm yesterday (Thursday 6th) we were sent an email from the Community and Environment Events Manager at the council, informing us that ‘having liaised with the council’s licensing department and licensing police, the showing of both The Greatest Showman and Sister Act will not be able to be shown on the Big Screen in General Gordon Square due to their BBFC rating of PG’.

“We had already been informed during the TENS [temporary events notice] application that Sister Act would not be allowed owing to the PG rating but also specifically pointing out that the film contained potentially troubling scenes including a shooting. While disappointed we accepted the decision and cancelled the event in good time, that screening having been planned for the 15th.

“However, the TENS application for The Greatest Showman had already been submitted without objection. To hear that the film was no longer allowed to be shown at barely 24 hours notice is a bitter blow. The film is hugely popular and we anticipated a large crowd which we also planned to leaflet with our programme for the remaining festival.

“We have endeavoured to work closely with the council in the past, and we respect that there may be reasons unknown to us at this time for the last minute cancellation of this film. It is a real shame to the volunteers at the festival that we cannot show The Greatest Showman tonight, and that an opportunity to bring a free event and community cinema to Woolwich town centre this evening has been lost.”

Council apology

A council spokesperson told this website: “We apologise unreservedly to [organiser] Gavin Eastley and all the volunteers who work so hard to organise the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival every year. We are meeting Gavin to reiterate our apologies and to talk about how we can better support him and his team in the future.

“The big screen in General Gordon Square currently has a licence to show films that have a U classification. This means that no films rated PG and above can normally be shown. The organisers of the film festival were granted a temporary events notice, which overrides the regular licence for the screen.

“We made a mistake and incorrectly told the organisers that no PG films can be screened under their temporary events notice.  We have confirmed that this was a mistake and we apologise to the organisers of the film festival for the confusion caused. We recognise that we need to improve the systems in place so we don’t let people down in the future.”

Festival goes on

Woolwich big screen
The screen shows BBC content and council promos

The big screen relays material from the BBC as well as local content inserted on the council’s behalf – including ads for the controversial New Wine Church and promos for the council leadership.

Two years ago, the festival attempted to show The Rocky Horror Picture Show – rated 15 – on the screen. This was passed by the council, but the screening was halted after the sound failed.

Volunteers are baffled as The Greatest Showman has been shown in public screenings across the country, including one this summer on the terrace at the Southbank Centre.

The Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival has previously maintained a good relationship with the council, receiving grants from its ward budget scheme. Last year, ceremonial mayor Peter Brooks even attended a screening of Battle of Britain at the old St George’s Garrison Church on Woolwich Common.

It is one of a number of free film events across south London. Highlights include This Is Spinal Tap at the White Swan pub in Charlton on Sunday, Silver Linings Playbook at Stir cafe in Woolwich on Monday and The Dish at Charlton House on Saturday 14 September.

A sister event in Catford also launches this weekend, with Blade Runner 2049 screening at the Catford Constitutional Club on Sunday.

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