Why don’t British citizens join forces to preserve a historical movie theater like directors in LA have?

Estimated read time 5 min read

One of LA’s loveliest cinemas – the huge, sentinel Village Theater in Westwood – has been bought by Jason Reitman, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Lulu Wang, Chloé Zhao, Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón, Ryan Coogler, Bradley Cooper, Gina Prince-Bythewood and lots of other film-makers.

In 1919, four individuals from the film industry, including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and DW Griffith, came together to establish the United Artists Corporation movie studio. The event had a nostalgic feel of early Hollywood.

This is not the initial instance of directors purchasing storefronts. Quentin Tarantino possesses two cinemas in Los Angeles, one of which is the Vista. Additionally, in 1970, innovative expert Jonas Mekas co-established the Anthology Film Archives in New York, which continues to invigorate the boundaries of film culture.

In the United Kingdom, certain movie producers have attempted to venture into the industry. In Scotland specifically, Jeremy Thomas, known for producing films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and David Cronenberg’s Crash, was a co-owner of Edinburgh’s Cameo Picturehouse for a period of time. Even Tilda Swinton and I dabbled in the world of cinema and snacks with our temporary pop-up venue, The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams.

Despite theaters facing challenges and even shutting down in various cities such as Bristol and Edinburgh, it raises the question as to why directors from the UK have not taken the opportunity to acquire them.

The Village Theater in Westwood.

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The obvious solution is money. Most directors do not make nearly enough to have a few hundred thousand to spare.

Additionally, it should be noted that a portion of the UK’s film industry is not solely driven by the private sector. Companies like Picturehouse, Vue, Everyman, and Curzon are all exhibiting visually striking films such as The Zone of Interest, but there are also cinemas that receive financial support from public sources such as the BFI through the National Lottery and the Film Audience Network, or from local governments.

The sums involved are modest and lack security, as council funding is dwindling. Cinemas and arts centers often have to become charitable organizations in order to receive these funds. While donations are accepted, investing in them is not an option as they are not driven by profit. These organizations specialize in hosting film seasons and, at their best, provide education on film, making them more than just commercial entities. As a result, the film exhibition scene in numerous cities in the UK is more diverse and vibrant compared to that of similar towns and cities in the US.

After facing significant budget cuts over the years, the cinematheque model is now in a precarious situation. However, acclaimed film directors such as Lynne Ramsay, Jonathan Glazer, Charlotte Wells, Edgar Wright, Andrea Arnold, Danny Boyle, and Stephen Frears all agree that this model serves as a crucial lifeline. These cinemas showcase bold and unconventional films that inspire and ignite the creativity of fellow filmmakers. For instance, my own experience at Edinburgh Filmhouse in the 1990s, where I watched the documentary The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, reignited my passion for filmmaking. While Filmhouse shut down 15 months ago, there are promising efforts underway to save it.

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Tilda Swinton and Mark Cousins unfold their banner for The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams in 2008.

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The American filmmakers acquired the Village Theater due to their love for the film industry. They are dedicated to preserving its legacy and do not plan on solely relying on financial gains. The publicly-funded UK approach also reflects a belief in film as a valuable art form. Is it possible to combine these similar efforts?

In Rome, the charming Nuovo Sacher is under the ownership of director Nanni Moretti. Nearby is the Cinema Troisi, a motivating movie theater and educational center operated by a foundation, backed by government funding for cultural endeavors, and frequently filled with enthusiastic young viewers. It is considered the top location in Rome to debut a film. Could we in the UK attempt to merge these two methods? Filmmakers collaborating with community organizations? The group Cinema for All assists 1,600 film societies or clubs throughout the UK. That equates to 1,600 small-scale cinema venues …

Looking back at the United States, we come across another intriguing example. Traverse City, Michigan boasts two stunning movie theaters, the State and the Bijou. These theaters are owned and operated by the Traverse City Film Festival, of which I was a board member for several years. The festival was founded by Michael Moore. The State theater is truly impressive, featuring 2,000 fiber-optic lights on its ceiling and luxurious velvet curtains. Its website highlights its history and values: “Originally a historic downtown movie theater, the State was renovated in 2007 and transformed into a year-round, community-driven arthouse cinema run by volunteers. With a focus on bringing the community together and showcasing the best new releases and independent films, the State is committed to offering a thoughtfully curated selection of movies that capture the essence of the human experience.”

It appears to be functioning. A renowned filmmaker and support from the community aim to portray the human experience in unique and impactful ways. Is the act of going to the movies more popular now than in the past few years? If so, let’s continue to nurture its growth.

Source: theguardian.com

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