10 Questions: Holli Keeble

October 3, 2018

Holli Keeble has overall accountability for business strategy and performance across Tyneside Cinema and its trading company. She joined the cinema in 2004 and has occupied several roles before being appointed chief executive in January 2017

What was your first break in business?  
It wasn’t a break as such, but my parents set up their own business when I was young – firstly a milk round, and then when supermarkets began to threaten the business, they sold up and bought a fish and chip shop. I was part of this environment growing up, and worked in the shop as a teenager. Working for someone who invests 100 per cent of themselves and their resources into a company makes you think in a certain way. Many years later, I took up a short-term post at Sage Gateshead in the learning and participation department – before the building opened. This opportunity opened my eyes to the powerful role that culture can play in the development of children and young people in a number of ways. I’ve worked in the cultural sector ever since, and I am proud that Tyneside Cinema has one of the most successful learning departments of any independent cinema in the UK.

What did you want to be growing up?  
I didn’t have much of a clue! Careers guidance at school was limited and my own frame of reference was narrow. My original degree choice – which I didn’t pursue in the end – was international law and, on reflection, that was more about an escape route out of the small town I grew up in. I later decided to combine the subjects that I loved – film and languages – which eventually led me to Tyneside Cinema.

What attracted you to your current role?  
I’ve worked at Tyneside Cinema since 2004, so having the opportunity to lead the organisation that I love and that is so integral to the city’s cultural life and sense of place is a huge privilege.
What is your organisation’s mission?  
Our vision is to be the finest, most welcoming, most exciting and most successful independent creative cinema in the UK – and our mission is for people to be inspired, entertained and transformed by the watching and making of film.

How do you get the best out of your team?  
It’s a balance between providing a clear road map into the future, being supportive and giving the appropriate level of autonomy, space and opportunity to fail and take risks.
What has been your career highlight?  
There are many, and sometimes it’s the small things. For example, I’m proud of a particular film/live music work that I produced, which went on to receive a successful national tour when one of our core London-based funders said it didn’t have an audience outside of the North East. Or leading the growth of the work that the cinema does with children and young people – with the help of a brilliant team – from something it did on the side-lines, to being a core part of the business.

What has been your biggest challenge?  
Balancing having a career with being a mum.

Who or what inspires you?  
My parents. They worked so hard to provide me with opportunities to transcend certain limitations of class. In the context of film, a timely example would be Agnès Varda – one of the world’s finest directors, who happens to be a woman. She was a key part of the male-dominated New Wave cinema movement and now 90 years old, has just released her latest film. Her filmmaking is authentic, imaginative and bold. She’s always seeking to present alternative voices and stories on screen, which is so important.

What are your company/organisation’s short and long-term goals?  
I want to ensure that Tyneside Cinema is culturally relevant for a broad range of audiences in Newcastle and the North East now and into the future – this means being inclusive, embedded in our community and with a plurality in our approach to programming. Film is both accessible and international, and so the opportunities to use our programme to help audiences question and understand the world and what’s happening around us are boundless.

Longer term, we need to secure a permanent home for our work with children and young people, to continue to build our reputation nationally and internationally for our filmmaking work and our bold and imaginative programming, and to continue to develop our vibrant heritage venue that is so much more than a cinema.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?  
It’s hard. I try to protect my weekends at all costs.

Tyneside Cinema  

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Viewpoint: Lisa Hart Shepherd