Terry Grimley reports on the latest attempt to put Birmingham back on the World Cinema map.

One of the first articles I ever wrote for The Birmingham Post, way back in the 1970s, was about Birmingham's lack of a proper film theatre.

Thirty years on, here we are again.

With the former Arts Lab, later Triangle, cinema now just a fond memory for film buffs of a certain age, and Mac's cinema closed for the centre's lengthy rebuild, anyone whose taste in cinema extends much beyond the usual run of British romcoms and Hollywood schlock - particularly to films in a foreign language - has found themselves left high and dry.

And yet, every few months, the programme for Nottingham's Broadway film centre drops on to my desk.

It has been offering the same mix of current world cinema and intelligently-themed retro-spective seasons ever since I was a student in Nottingham in the late 1960s - in a city with a population half the size of Birmingham's.

I just don't get it. And neither does a group of fed-up film enthusiasts who have decided to fill the gap left by Mac by setting up a new Birmingham International Film Society with support from Screen West Midlands.

They have started with a season of 12 Cuban films, inaugurated last week with the Birmingham premiere - after nearly half a century - of Tomas Alea's 1962 comedy 12 Chairs, which attracted a healthy audience to the Library Theatre.

The prime mover is Allan Brookfield, a former teacher who pioneered media studies in Birmingham and has long been a familiar figure supporting not only the city's cinemas but theatre and music events.

"I think I'm the initiator of it," he says about the new society. "Many years ago my wife and I chose to live in Birmingham because of its cultural life.

"As soon as I discovered the Mac cinema was closing, the first thing I did was ask myself, if I had been 20 rather than 70 in 2008, would I have started my career here? The city has music and healthy theatre, but where is world cinema?

"The second stage was I rang Screen West Midlands and in all innocence, not realising how they operate, said 'what are you going to do about this situation?'. The man at the end of the phone said 'what are you going to do about it?'. It seems they don't initiate things, they respond to other people's initiatives. Many emails and phone calls later, here we are."

Brookfield also wrote to the council: "All I got back from them was a letter saying we're putting so much money into Mac, and there's this fantastic digital film festival..."

He thinks the politicians are missing a trick. Some might think foreign-film enthusiasts are an insignificant minority but in fact, he firgues, it is precisely the kind of creative people needed to drive the new knowledge-based economy who expect to have this kind of choice - particularly when it is routinely on offer in most other UK cities.

"We are hoping in the autumn to show some more recent films - which of course have already been shown in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool, as well as smaller cities like Sheffield and Bristol. For this initial season we have been working with Cuban Solidarity, and we're very aware of the need to talk to audiences rather than just put on the films we want to see."

Surveying the current situation in the UK's second largest city, Allan Brookfield estimates there are about 80 screens, including Solihull. A couple of weeks ago they were showing 27 Hollywood and British films, seven of which were showing at more than seven screens, four from Bollywood, and just one from another European country.

"In a city that prides itself on being culturally diverse, with people from all countries in Europe, what does that offer in terms of cinema?

"We have talked to the Odeon and Cineworld about using a multiplex screen, but after a lot of discussion the answer has been no.

"Our argument has been that surely we can bring in more people for a one-off screening than their lowest-performing screen - ie the six people they will get for a third-rate US exploitation film - but they haven't bought it. They seem to have tunnel vision.

"I've been responsible for Cuban screenings at Mac and depending on the time, at 5.30pm we've had about 40 people, but for an 8.30pm screening we've filled the place and had to turn people away, so I think there's an audience out there.

"What we need is a cinema space which has a clear image, where you don't have to cross-subsidise serious films with commercial films."

The trouble is, as he acknowledges, there has been a long history to this. Over the years there have been plans for BFI-funded film theatres that have fallen through for various reasons. Now the International Film Society could possibly act as a catalyst to get a project like that back on the agenda.

"I don't see why Birmingham should always fail and smaller places like Nottingham should succeed.

"It needs a massive input of money to set it up with projectors and other infrastructure, but after that, in city terms, it would need a relatively small input of money to maintain it week by week."

Simple, really, isn't it? We accept that theatre, orchestral music and dance are important art forms that can't be expected to pay for themselves. Is it really still necessary to argue the parallel case for world cinema?

And surely the rapid development of Birmingham city centre offers opportunities for public-private partnerships.

An elegantly-designed film centre combining the best of world cinema with one of the city's best cafes could add prestige to any mul-timillion development.

Put one into Martineau Galleries, for exam-ple, and it would make Masshouse seem even more like Berlin's Potsdamerplatz.

* The Birmingham International Film Society's Cuban Festival continues at the Library Theatre, Chamberlain Square, on Tuesday with Humberto Solas's 1982 film Beloved (6pm/8.15pm). Others in the season are Death of a Bureaucrat (June 5), The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin (June 17) and A Successful Man (July 12). Tickets are £3.50. Box office 0121 303 2323 or Birmingham Central Library reception. You can contact Birmingham International Film Society at bhamifs@hotmail.co