How to Start a Film Society

To start a film group all you need is a small group of enthusiastic people with the desire to see films of their choosing in a suitable venue. Approach the FVFS or look at our detailed information sheets to find out about the technology of films and DVD, the legal, operational and financial aspects of running a film organisation.

With your new committee decide whether you wish to be a film society, NPV (Non-Profit, Volunteer-run) cinema or NPV film festival, select a program of films and determine a budget, assuming number of members or patrons and a suitable charge.

Then you just promote the group, get some likely people together in the proposed venue with a film or DVD and the right equipment, and show them what the group can do. Offer them a program of films at an attractive price. And have the treasurer set up to accept payments.

Then the only way is forward! The FVFS can help you with all of these activities.

Obtaining Your films – 16mm, 35mm or DVD?

The choice of 16mm film, 35mm film or DVD will depend on size of the group and type of program desired.

There are several film distributors operating who are willing to hire you DVDs, Videos, 16mm or 35mm. These usually come with appropriate screening rights pre-paid, so no further payments are necessary.

The NTLC (Non Theatrical Lending Collection) at the NFSA (National Film and Sound Archive) has many thousands of 16mm films available for a very reasonable borrowing fee, as well as some interesting DVDs in their collection. These films and DVDs generally come with non-theatrical screening rights included in the charge and are cheaper than commercial rental. The selection and range of titles is very different however, from those in commercial libraries.

Beneficial non-theatrical charges and conditions apply when a film group screens to members only. Where the public are charged for admission to any screening then commercial conditions and charges apply. This is generally a negotiated flat rate or percentage of the ticket sales, depending on the distributor. The NTLC may not be able to supply material for screening in these cases.

Many DVD based film societies source their DVDs privately, or purchase them outright. To screen a DVD in a public venue, screening rights must be obtained from the Australian distributor. The Federation of Victorian Film Societies can assist member societies obtain non-theatrical screening rights at an attractive price. It is not permitted to screen DVDs from regular video outlets in public even to registered film societies.

16mm or 35mm films borrowed from private collections also need to have screening rights cleared by the rights owner (usually the Australian distributor) before they can be screened in a public venue. Rental prices from commercial distributors (for non-theatrical screenings) vary widely, but in 2010 ranged from $80 to $250 for a 16mm feature and $250 plus for a 35mm feature. A non-theatrical screening is one where all the audience are members of the film society and no single admission charges are made.

Rental prices for theatrical screenings (ie where admission is paid for, per screening, at the door) are generally based on a percentage of profits, and subject to agreement with the distributor.

Your choice of medium may be influenced as much on availability of titles as on costs. Recent art-house, foreign or highly acclaimed titles tend to be available in 35mm or DVD. 16mm titles from the NTLC tend to be mainly film study titles, although they do have a few recent titles, whereas the few remaining 16mm film distributors focus on “golden oldies” or recent box-office hits.

Incorporation and Insurance

The FVFS recommends that groups operating in public venues be incorporated and covered by public liability insurance.

Approach Consumer Affairs Victoria or check their website for information about incorporation. . Many public venues require incorporation and that at least $10M public liability cover be held by organisations renting their facilities.

The FVFS can help you organise public liability cover for member organisations at reasonable rates.

The Associations Incorporation Act 1981 can be viewed at

Tax and the GST

Film organisations, which screen films and thus support the Arts, are classified as charities under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936. To become exempt from income tax the group will in due course, need to obtain an ABN and become registered as an “income tax exempt charity”.

Registering for an ABN and registering for the GST are two separate actions. To register for the GST you must have an ABN, but you can apply for an ABN without registering for the GST. If you cannot quote an ABN you may find that payments made to you may have up to 48.5% withheld and forwarded to the tax office. This includes payment for advertising in your newsletter, government grants etc.

A film group, being a non-profit organization, need not register for the GST if the annual turnover is less than $100,000, which is normally the case.

Further information can be found in our detailed information sheets or on the ATO website