Most film fans know the term "underground cinema", the name given to work which is transgressive or unconventional either in its subject matter or its means of production. But in 2004, beneath the streets of Paris, police uncovered proof that some French cineastes were using the words in a geographical as well as a genre sense: deep inside the city's famous catacombs they uncovered a real underground cinema, complete with projector, screen, bar, dedicated electricity supply, three separate phone lines and a pressure cooker for making couscous. There was also a CCTV system, designed to trigger a tape of dogs barking if anyone passed nearby.

It was all head-scratchingly weird and ever so slightly comical, though the police didn't go as far as to say so – like their British counterparts, French cops aren't known for seeing the funny side. "We have no idea whatsoever," was the terse response les flics gave when asked what it was all about.

What they did know, however, was that when they returned a few days later, the power lines had been cut and a note left on the floor: "Do not try to find us". Only much later was the cinema revealed to be the work of Les UX, a shadowy group of urban explorers and art pranksters dedicated to revitalising the French capital's secret spaces. An underground film club was just one of their capers.

Fast forward a decade, and the idea of taking cinema out of the multiplex and into any sort of "pop-up" venue, for any sort of audience, has seeped into the popular consciousness. At one end of the scale is London-based organisation Secret Cinema, who began running events in 2007 with a screening of Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park in underground arches near London Bridge. They followed that with a not-so-secret screening of Lindsay Anderson's cult 1968 film If ... at two public schools in London and Bristol. Now unashamedly overground, they hit the headlines last year when a planned screening of Back To The Future in a massive, 1950s-themed set hit the buffers. Technical issues sorted, it eventually went ahead to an audience of thousands who paid around £50 for the experience.

But at the other end of the scale is a network of film clubs run on shoestring budgets by amateur enthusiasts purely out of a love of cinema. They screen films in libraries, church halls, municipal centres, schools or any other venue whose keys they can lay their hands on. Many have no more ambition than to screen a popular film, meet their costs (more on that later) and have enough people turn up to give them an excuse to go for a pint afterwards. It's these people who are celebrated and encouraged every September when Scalarama runs its Unofficial Month Of Cinema, with a mantra to "Go forth and fill the land with cinemas".

Now in its fifth year, Scalarama is an offshoot of the Cinema Nation organisation and helps small-scale venues and film clubs around the UK to screen films and promote themselves under one umbrella "brand". In Scotland (or Scaledonia, as it's inevitably called in this context), there are a number of Scalarama events planned for next month. Take One Action is screening films in various places around the capital, including at the Royal Botanic Gardens, while in Glasgow, Govan Hill Baths is the venue for a People Power Double Bill in Scalarama's #directedbywomen strand. Still in Glasgow, The Old Hairdresser's on Renfield Lane hosts the city's Matchbox Cine Club and there are other Scalarama events planned for Inverness, Aberfeldy and Dunlop in Ayrshire, where the town hall is showing Hannah Arendt. A biopic of the German-Jewish philosopher, political theorist and journalist whose coverage of Adolf Eichmann's 1961 trial for The New Yorker gave the world the phrase "the banality of evil", it's being screened by Dunlop Community Cinema.

Crucially, however, Scalarama also provides assistance and advice for those who are thinking of setting up a club or society. Now here I have to declare an interest: for the last year I've been trying to do just that in Corstorphine in Edinburgh. Navigating the thicket of rules, regulations and licence requirements isn't easy but I'm inching gradually towards my eventual aim – a community asset which will bring the sort of films to my neighbourhood that aren't often screened in cinemas and never on television.

For me, the idea started in an unusual place: at an exhibition of paintings by Scottish artist Peter Doig held at Edinburgh's Scottish National Gallery in 2013. Included in it were Doig's handmade posters for the weekly film club he runs in his home in Trinidad.

I was inspired, too, by the knowledge that Edinburgh has a proud place in the history of film clubs – the Edinburgh Film Guild, founded in 1930, is the world's oldest – and by my frustration at the lack of diversity shown by mainstream cinema exhibitors and, in particular, by broadcasters.

It's a point which isn't lost on Scalarama co-founder Phil Wood, who bemoans the loss of repertory cinemas like London's fabled The Scala (for which Scalarama is named), the demise of video rental shops which introduced film fans to genre films, and to TV strands like Moviedrome, which screened cult films on BBC Two from 1988 until it was axed in 2000.

"All of these things have now gone, but it's still really important for people to discover stuff," says Wood.

And helping to do that is a growing army of amateur curators screening films anywhere and any how they can in a network of film clubs. "The reason it works, and the reason it has snowballed, is because the mainstream offering is so poor at the moment," Wood continues. "TV is not fulfilling what people want. We love these old or classic films, but you can't see them on TV and they're not on in cinemas any more. So understandably people go 'This is a great film and I want lots of people to see it'. But actually it's quite easy to do it yourself now and that's what we're talking about at Scalarama. If you love it and you want to introduce people to it, well, do it yourself."

Which is exactly what I'm trying to do. It's a fairly daunting process, once you delve into the smallprint, but one of the hallmarks of film clubs, and one of the things Scalarama was set up to foster, is a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. In other words, there's always someone willing to give advice.

One such person is Mark Jenkins, who runs a club in Orkney that is considerably more established than my nascent outfit, to the extent that it's used as a case study by film promotion organisation Cinema For All. Along with the Edinburgh Film Guild and Glasgow Women's Library, West Side Cinema has just been shortlisted for Cinema For All's upcoming Film Club Of The Year award.

A film editor and former projectionist at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, Jenkins founded the society after he relocated to Stromness. It regularly attracts audiences of 80-plus and is currently in the black to the tune of £6000.

"It was partly as a personal thing because I want to see films and I want to share films," he explains. "But I also saw a gap: the community wasn't seeing the films that I thought they should be seeing. There weren't any alternative screenings."

Jenkins's ambitions run to a six-year plan which (he hopes) will eventually see films being made under the auspices of West Side Cinema. No sign of that yet, but he has been able to run some practical film workshops. As a result, he says, "there's definitely more of an appetite for film and there's definitely a better understanding of the wider palette of film-making".

The films are shown in a town hall which doubles as a church on Sundays and a yoga centre on Mondays, and audiences sit at tables, cabaret-style.

"That was a main thing for me," says Jenkins. "I've dreamed of that since I was at the Cameo. I just don't like rows of seats, so I wanted to try it out with tables. So we do that, and people bring their own food and drink, and we'll dress the tables in the theme of the film. That side of it is really important. Presentation is key to getting people in the mood."

I have nothing so grand planned for my own little cinema club – we've called it The Astoria, after Corstorphine's long defunct cinema – and in terms of audience numbers I'd be happy if we made it into double figures.

As for a £6000 slush fund, that seems incredible given the financial hoops film clubs have to jump through in order to screen movies. Leaving aside the various other licences required, the most prohibitive of all is what's known as "minimum guarantee". It's a legacy of the days when film distributors would send out a reel of film, a practice which necessarily had costs attached, and it requires the exhibitor to either pay to screen the film – typically around £100 per title – or guarantee to hand over 35% of box office takings, whichever is the greater figure.

It's a difficult circle to square, and one of the reasons Jenkins is among those lobbying for a change in the rules.

"I think it's really detrimental to smaller film societies trying to set up," he says. "Even if you get one person turning up, you still have to pay £100. Nowadays, if a small film society is just showing films from Blu-ray or DVD they quite often buy their own copy, so the film companies are doing very little for that money. I think that if they scrapped minimum guarantee there would be a lot more film societies opening." In which case, he thinks, the film companies could actually end up making more money.

As film club ingredients go, then, I'm learning that positivity and determination are as important as passion and an eclectic DVD collection. But in the end, all involved in film clubs and film societies say the graft is worth it. More than that, says Phil Wood, it's "crucially important" for the future wellbeing of film and film-going.

"It's really important that young people growing up understand about the history of film, that it's not just what's in the multiplex, it's massively wider than that. At the same time, you go on Netflix or Amazon and there are thousands of films on there, so how do you find out about something?"

Answer: you trust your local film club to guide you. And if you haven't got one, start one. To paraphrase the tagline from a film I like but probably won't show if I ever get The Astoria off the ground – Kevin Costner's Field Of Dreams – if you build it, they will come.

For details of Scalarama screenings, see