‘Drive-in’ cinema connects rural communities

The Pilot Project: Shinema bus on tour from mulx.com on Vimeo.

 Ralf E. Mulks’ dream as a filmmaker living in the Midwest, was to convert a rusty Toyota Coaster bus into a “drive-in” cinema. Reminiscent of the 1940s’ “Travelling Talkies”, the cinema bus travels to rural communities for evenings of entertainment, in a bid to reduce social isolation.

The Shinema (shed plus cinema) bus project has been a year in the making, with Ralf and his fellow Chapman Valley Menshed members spending their Saturdays converting the Coaster into a funky portable cinema (pictured), which premiered in Mullewa on November 23.

The Men’s shed have been running Shinema in rural towns for three years with a traditional cinema screen, but they needed to make some significant changes to expand into more communities.

“Normally we have a 6x3m screen with a lot of infrastructure. It’s tedious, you need six people to set it up and multiple cars to transport it,” Mr Mulks said.

“We wanted to bring the show to more rural communities which meant a cheaper, more portable solution. That is the beauty of the bus.

“Now the screen pulls directly off the roof rack, all our equipment fits inside, and the whole show runs off a generator. It doesn’t get more portable than that.”


The Shinema screen pulls directly off the roof rack, making it fully portable.    Photo: Sebastian Neuweiler

Men’s Sheds originated from the knowledge that men are less likely to ask for help when needed, which can lead to isolation and mental health disorders. They provide an environment where men can connect with friends new and old.

The Chapman Valley Menshed hope the Shinema bus would bring this ethos out of the shed and into the community, ultimately reducing social isolation.

“We want it to be like the circus coming into town, a spectacle that brings in the community and builds it up,” Mr Mulks said.

“It’s not just a show, it’s live entertainment, food fundraisers, kids’ activities… it gets people off their devices and talking face to face.”

With the decrease in rural populations, there has been a corresponding decrease in local facilities. For example, with the closing down of the Chapman Valley pub, there weren’t as many opportunities for local men to build networks.

“You don’t get this kind of entertainment out here anymore. In our town, you can’t just pop over the road and see a show,” Mr Mulks said.

“You have to travel 30 to 40 kilometres to do anything and you have to travel back at night. This is why we want to take this event to more and more rural towns.”

The conversion itself has also worked wonders for building confidence and connection amongst the Chapman Valley crew invested in the project.

“This has been an incredible program for the men working on it. We have discovered many hidden talents in our community, panel beaters, spray painters… everyone is really proud to be involved,” Mr Mulks said.

Chapman Valley Menshed members during conversion and after completion of the Shinema bus.

The Shinema bus project is supported by WA Primary Health Alliance as part of the Midwest Suicide Prevention Trial, to improve the mental health of men in the region.

“People are often time poor, living and working on farms or stations on the outskirts of town, or they are FIFO workers or fishermen with lifestyles that make it hard to put down roots and make real connections,” Midwest Suicide Prevention Trial Project Coordinator, Jacki Ward said.

“This means people may not have a community to help them through difficult times and to share their problems with, which is why events like Shinema are so important.”

The support of Chapman Valley Menshed is an example of the Midwest Suicide Prevention Trial’s strategy to upskill local people to create a sustainable foundation for suicide prevention in the region.

“When the Trial ends, the only way it will continue to have an impact is by enabling the community to run their own initiatives and grassroots programs,” Ms Ward said.

“Often, there are very few organisations and services to step in, compared to the metropolitan area, which is why it is important that community support is driven by local people and organisations like the Chapman Valley Menshed.”

To learn more about the Midwest Suicide Prevention Trial, visit our website.

The Shinema project is supported by Chapman Valley Menshed, WA Primary Health Alliance through the Midwest Suicide Prevention Trial, and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, with additional support for the from the Shire of Mullewa to premiere the bus on the 23 November in Mullewa.

Watch our video below to learn more about Shinema and the Trial.