April was an exciting month! I spoke to four cinemas ranging from a volunteer-run community cinema to local cinemas to a family-run independent cinema.
As part of Regional Screen Scotland and Social Value Lab’s research into how audiences value the experience of local cinema-going, I am traveling Scotland meeting and interviewing the cinema owners/managers that participated in the initial research. While these cinemas are structured and run somewhat differently, what they all have in common is a passion for providing access and delivering great films to their communities. The passions behind these unique cinemas experiences is remarkable and makes my research genuinely enjoyable.
My research in April 2016
Pix in the Stix
I kicked off my April research by meeting with Suzie Queripel from the volunteer-run community cinema, Pix in the Stix. It was easy to see how they won the British Federation of Film Society Award for best new Film Society in 2011 and the 2013 Jim Dempster Award for Innovation. Operating out of town halls, Pix in the Stix utilise two venues for their screenings; East Linton Town hall and Tyninghame Town Hall and have been doing so since 2009. I visited the former and, like Machars Movies, I was again lucky to be involved in the set-up for the evening.
Suzie was bustling with infectious energy and enthusiasm as I was introduced to all who were helping to run the screening that night including their youngest volunteer of under 10 years. As Suzie inferred, it is important that people of the community are involved in the running of the cinema, no matter their age. Pix in the Stix know their community and screen for their community. They offer an early evening session aimed at children with a great approach to engaging their young audience. What is unique about this is that the local primary school children are consulted by another youth Pix in the Stix volunteer to help choose the film to screen – quite ingenious.
Following the early evening screening is a screening of a different movie for a more mature audience.
Not only are Pix in the Stix ‘bringing the magic of movies to the East Linton, Tyninghame and surrounding areas’, but they are spreading their knowledge of how to set-up and run volunteer-run cinemas in outreach projects as far as The Isle of Lismore where they helped to set up a now very successful community cinema, Lismore Lumiere. There is even a short 16 minute documentary about how Pix in the Stix help to create Lismore Lumiere
Next on my list was Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema, Hippodrome in Bo’ness. I met with Alison Strauss and Laura Whyte to discuss the cinema which first opened its doors in 1912. The building opened on 11 March 1912, was originally designed by local architect Matthew Steele, and was then owned and run by film-maker Louis Dickson. The Hippodrome is now owned by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust and leased to the Falkirk Council whom Alison and Laura work for.
What draws people to The Hippodrome is not only the unique, historic building but the intimate, friendly atmosphere where the focus is on providing access to remarkable films. Alison and Laura had just finished up with the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, which was a huge success with movies from as far as Ukraine and China. The cinema is a perfect setting for the festival with its beautiful 1926 decorative scheme. As a respondent states from the recent audience survey that Regional Screen Scotland and Social Value undertook, ‘it is a privilege to watch films here’.
The Hippodrome also hosts some incredible Q & A sessions with filmmakers and celebrities. On May 12th the Hippodrome is screening Battle Mountain: Graeme Obree’s Story and welcoming the cycling legend himself, Graeme Obree, to the Hippodrome to introduce the documentary, followed by a Q&A after the screening. The respect that this cinema holds within the community and out-with, in spite of its size, is incredible.
Pavilion is an independent family-run four-screen cinema in Galashiels. Owner and Manager Andrew Poole was born into the world of cinema ownership, with his father and brothers before him operating their own cinemas.
The building itself has an amazing history. It was opened in 1911 under the name of Playhouse and was renamed Capitol in 1959 and later Kingsway, then finally, Pavilion.
When Andrew took over the cinema in 1993 he renovated it from a theatre, nightclub and bingo hall into its current state; a four-screen venue which is a treasured feature of the Galashiels community. Andrew not only worked to refurbish the inside of the building, he stripped back the metal façade that was covering the exterior of the building to reveal the magnificent structure and historic architecture that the cinema resides in.
A nice feature of the Pavilion is that the seats in cinema one are the same chairs from its days as a theatre, with a beautiful decorative finish on the aisle – refurbished of course!
Andrew has worked hard to find out what the community wants and has learnt over the years what to programme to generate the most interest and excitement. With the closest multiplex in Edinburgh, Pavilion’s programming attempts to offer a breadth of variety on screening choices from Hollywood blockbusters to various ‘live’ and recorded classical entertainment – ranging from concerts to opera to theatre. What Andrew loves most about his cinema, is seeing those who came in their youth, come back as adults with their own family.
Robert Burns Centre
Last, but not least, on my interview list for a busy April was with Alice Stilgoe and John Harvey from the Robert Burns Centre cinema, a small, friendly arthouse cinema in Dumfries. Situated in the town’s amazing eighteenth century watermill on the west bank of the River Nith, the Robert Burns Centre has a long and positive history in Dumfries. The building was redeveloped back in 1986 and the cinema was introduced in 1987. The building also hosts an exhibition featuring original manuscripts and belongings of the poet, Robert Burns, and features a shop and café where visitors to the cinema can meet friends and have a bite to eat before the screening. Thus it has become somewhat of a cultural hub for the community, with the cinema and spaces also being rented out for various activities such as conferences and weddings.
The Robert Burns Centre has a successful Film Club that runs on Monday nights with a loyal audience who enjoy letting Alice and John chose a range of interesting and quality films that they discuss over tea or coffee at the conclusion of the screening. They also run Wee Film Club on the first Saturday of every month; screening for really wee ones through to older children that can sit though slightly longer films. The passion that Alice and John have for delivering great and diverse film to their community was inspiring and really helps to show how they have built their valued audience.