University of Oxford

Follow us @OxfordASPIRE

This is an archive site and is not updated. It represents works conducted by Oxford University Museums funded by Arts Council England between 2012-2018. For information about our current work please visit

Afterhours Cinema Club at the Pitt Rivers

21 May 14 -- Anonymous
The Adventures of Prince Achmed screening at the Pitt Rivers March 2014
This post was contributed by Ellena Smith, Oxford ASPIRE Assistant | Photographs taken by Ali Orr, VERVE Technician, Pitt Rivers Museum

In March this year, the Pitt Rivers VERVE team hosted a unique cinema event in collaboration with Oxford ASPIRE and Oxford University Humanities division. The event was funded as a pilot and comprised a film screening with live music, expert talks from academics and object handling.

The initial idea for the event emerged from an Innovation day held in June 2013 by Oxford ASPIRE for colleagues across the Oxford University Museums. The Innovation Day was a facilitated event and provided an opportunity for colleagues across the Oxford University Museums to work together to form innovative ideas for collaborative working. This project was taken on by the HLF funded VERVE team at the Pitt Rivers, as it had the potential to fit in perfectly with their programme of after hour events.

Oxford ASPIRE thought it would be valuable to involve Dr. Cleo Hanaway Oakley; Knowledge Exchange Facilitator for University of Oxford’s Humanities Division.  Cleo happened to have a knowledge and passion for early cinema and suggested a screening of The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger; the oldest surviving animated feature film. The film was painstakingly created by manipulating silhouetted hand-cut figures frame by frame. With the film chosen, the VERVE team were able to link their collections and proposed handling of the Pitt River’s Javanese shadow puppets as a prelude to the screening.  Cleo, as part of her role was able to invite academics from Oxford University to discuss the film as part of the event, and even managed to track down and invite a renowned children’s book writer who has been inspired by Lotte Reiniger’s work. 


Although The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a silent film with a pre-existing original score, it was suggested that Flights of Helios; a local band, were approached with the idea that a new score could be created.  Flights of Helios discussed the film with the academics to gain a deeper understanding of the film before throwing themselves into composing the score.

After the event was publicised by VERVE the free tickets were completely allocated by the night of the event and attendees were queuing outside the museum half an hour before the doors opened. People streamed into the Pitt Rivers to a soundtrack composed by a group of young people from Pegasus Theatre in response to stories from The Arabian Nights tales. After visiting the bar there was the opportunity to handle Javanese shadow puppets and explore the Pitt River’s court.

Javanese Shadow Puppets from the Pitt Rivers Collection

As the audience filed through the Museum of Natural History and into the lecture theatre, there was a palpable air of anticipation. Following talks from Cleo, Dr Elinor Cleghorn, Prof Ros Ballaster and Jamila Gavin and an introduction from the VERVE Team the film started.

Introductions and expert talks

The film and score came together as a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. With the beautiful and painstakingly hand cut animated silhouettes dancing across the screen accompanied by swells of sound, the carefully composed score complimented the drama of the tales depicted on-screen.

 The contrast from the original score meant that this was unique way for the film to be experienced for the audience, and the panel of academic experts who were familiar with the film clearly found the new context given by the live performance to be a challenging interpretation.  

The evaluation forms completed on the night indicated that audience members had initially attended for a number of different reasons; to see a band they knew or to experience a much loved film and academic discussions. The collaborative element provided the audience with new and provocative way of experiencing performances and ideas they may have been familiar with.

Local band Flights of Helios play live their own score to the film



The artistry and craft of the original film and expert critiques, along with a contemporary score and the opportunity to handle objects from the Pitt Rivers collection as part of the event meant that this was a truly successful experiment in creative collaboration! It is exciting to know that the event grew from the seed of an idea formed at an ASPIRE Innovation event, that received modest funding, yet was developed with the input of colleagues from the University and museums into a wonderful evening of challenging multi-media entertainment.

The pilot has since been taken on by the Ashmoleanand the performance was repeated at the ‘Magic Museums at Night’ event Friday 16th May 2014.