Paul Giggal has been with Medicinema for 12 years (Credit: Paul Giggal)

Paul Giggal, 44, has risen through the ranks of Medicinema during his 12 years. He sits down with Jack Francis to discuss the importance of their work, his varied role, and the power of cinema.

What is the overall mission of Medicinema?

The overall mission is to improve the well-being of NHS patients in the UK through the power of film and the power of that shared cinema experience. I would love for there to be a Medicinema set up in every single hospital across the country. I think one of the amazing things we offer is escape into the film and a story, but on the other hand, you’ve also got that physical escape from the ward and what you’re going through. We build our cinemas to look like ‘normal’ cinemas. So, once you’re in, patients forget they’re in hospital.

 What is your personal story with the charity?

Six years I’ve been here, but I volunteered for six years prior. I always loved film and the cinema has always been my place to escape. I just googled volunteering/film in London, trying to do something good, and started doing things like bringing the patients down to the screens and taking them back. When you’re bringing a patient off the ward, they can be shy or quiet, but also a bit nervous because they’re in their pyjamas or they’re in a bed. But when the lights come up at the end, the quietest person can then be the chattiest person. You really see the difference that it makes to people.

 And what is that role like day-to-day as COO?

Varied! It’s part of working for a small charity. I like the fact that that one day, I was presenting to the whole Disney staff across EMEA. Then an hour later I’m dealing with a broken projector. Keeps you on your toes for sure. But if I had to do the same thing, hour after hour, I know I’d get bored.

 Are there any experiences that particularly stick out in your mind?

I had been on the wards in the afternoon speaking to this couple. They were excited because they couldn’t believe there was a cinema – she’d had a stroke and had a long rehabilitation journey. They were so friendly. And then when I went back to collect them before the film, the atmosphere had changed. I thought “oh, something’s happened this afternoon”, but I didn’t pry. The one thing we don’t talk about is anything medical – we’re the escape from that. So, I was just wheeling her down, and she just turned her husband and said, “I’m really sorry I snapped at you, it’s just all getting on top of me.” And during the film, she had her hands on the table and he reached over and put his hand on top of hers, and they looked at each other.

You’re seeing the rawest emotional human connection almost daily, aren’t you?

You really are. Can I be cheeky and give you another?

Please do.

There was a screening of the BFG and there was a scene with Sophie, the little girl, where the BFG is leaving her because it’s not safe for her. Then she says, “I’m not afraid”. And this little girl in the audience shouted “I’m not afraid”, then other kids followed. Apart from maternity, it’s quite a difficult place to be sometimes. It’s good to see those moments where people just experience joy.

 You’re a small charity with plans to expand. How excited are you for the future?

With COVID, it was an impossibly tough two years for everyone. Our belief is when you’re in hospital, it’s really isolating. You lose control, you’re taken out of your normal life – during COVID, everyone in the world got a taste of that loss. I really think with those things, it’s really going to help propel us to be able to build more, and we’ve got so many conversations and agreements going on in the background right now. I couldn’t be more excited.

 For you personally, what was the first film you saw where you thought “cinema is bloody great, isn’t it?”

We used to go up to my gran’s house, and they had a VHS of ET. It was me and my cousins crammed into this living room with a TV you had to put 50p pieces in the back of! We’re all sitting there watching it and I remember it being the first film that made me cry. I was sitting on the floor leaning against the armchair, and I remember thinking “don’t let anyone see me”, then I realised that everyone else was crying. That’s the first time I’ve ever been properly moved by a film.