Independent cinema ensures wider choice on the big screen

The Electric Palace in Harwich helping to keep independent cinerma alive- Photo: Chris Strachan

The Electric Palace in Harwich helping to keep independent cinerma alive- Photo: Chris Strachan - Credit: Archant

In this modern world where one size is supposed to fit all, it’s reassuring to find people standing up for what they value. In this case the people of Bury St Edmunds are petitioning to keep their arthouse cinema after the Competition Commission insisted that the Cineworld group sell the Hatter Street venue because the parent company effectively had a monopoly of cinemas in the town.

Actress Honeysuckle Weeks and author Anthony Horowitz,visited Aldeburgh cinema to take part in a qu

Actress Honeysuckle Weeks and author Anthony Horowitz,visited Aldeburgh cinema to take part in a question and answerr session fiolliwing a screening of Foyles War to raise money for EACH childrens charity. Independent cinemas offer opportunities for audiences to meet film-makers.

The fact that the two sites screened completely different types of film seems not to have affected their judgement. This decision seems particularly perverse when you consider that, in theory, a rival cinema company could buy the Abbeygate Picturehouse and start showing exactly the same films that are currently screened at Cineworld. In that scenario everyone would be the loser – both Cineworld and more importantly the cinema-going population of Bury St Edmunds.

Staff at the Abbeygate Picturehouse in Bury get into costume for the Great Gatsby film release. Inde

Staff at the Abbeygate Picturehouse in Bury get into costume for the Great Gatsby film release. Independent cinemas can often offer cinemagoers that something extra. - Credit: Archant

As the audiences at the Abbeygate Picture House have proved, along with regulars at the Ipswich Film Theatre, Aldeburgh Cinema, The Harwich Electric Palace and the Riverside in Woodbridge, there is a significant demand for world and independent cinema.

No-one is suggesting that so-called art cinema is more important than the mainstream releases from Hollywood or large-scale British movies like the James Bond or Harry Potter movies, but they are essential in preserving a breadth and diversity to the films on offer. They provide choice.

I always equate filmgoing to eating a meal. Variety is everything. No-one would want to eat the same thing every day, likewise why would anyone want to always watch the same type of films? To me Hollywood blockbusters are fish and chips or a Chinese takeaway – lovely, tasty and frequently hit the spot. But, there are times when you really fancy a well-cooked, well-presented meal and that to my mind comes from the world of independent cinema.

Also let’s dismiss the notion that foreign language and independent films are obscure and difficult to follow. The films of French directors like Luc Besson or Francois Ozon are as mainstream as you could wish for – they just happen to be in French.

They are, in fact, more immediately intelligible than the films of British mainstream director Christopher Nolan who, along with Hollywood blockbusters like the Batman Dark Knight movies, has turned out non-linear brain-twisters like Memento, The Prestige and Inception. Also I really don’t understand why people shy away from sub-titles. There are those who claim not to like reading dialogue on screen because it takes them out of the film. I found as a sixth-former watching Das Boot, the German submarine movie in the mid-1980s, that if you are caught up in the movie then you are not aware you are reading anything.

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Bizarrely the same people who complain about sub-titles are happy to watch great chunks of sub-titled dialogue in Klingon in the Star trek films or swathes of Elvish or Ork in The Lord of the Rings franchise.

The flipside of the equation is that independent and arthouse cinemas provide a different viewing experience. The atmosphere may be quieter, there may be film notes on offer, less pressure to buy sweets, popcorn and fizzy drinks and knowledgable staff with whom you can discuss the film afterwards.

In the case of the Abbeygate Picturehouse you can even have a meal before or after the screening. It’s all about choice. Independent cinemas are also good at supporting smaller scale movies and the indigenous film industry.

Films with literary associations play very well, movies like Anna Karenina, The Last Station and Atonement play brilliantly in independent cinemas as do films like The King’s Speech, Le Weekend and The Artist and cross-over movies like Tamara Drewe, Made In Dagenham and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But just as importantly there are smaller films like The Angels’ Share, Before Midnight or The Selfish Giant which may struggle to find screen space in a multiplex.

Smaller films often offer a platform for a new generation of directing talent. Without a cinema release the British film industry would find it increasingly difficult to provide a shop window for its films. British movies frequently form the backbone to the annual film award season but find it hard to secure screenspace in mainstream cinemas.

These are clearly good films and there is a good audience for them but the numbers don’t always match those queuing to see the latest superhero flick – but that shouldn’t mean those films are not available to be seen.

The other valuable role independent cinemas play is staging one-off events like hosting question and answer sessions with actors, writers and directors, staging revivals of classic movies or hosting festivals. For example Aldeburgh Cinema is hosting its annual documentary festival this weekend with special guest historian Simon Schama while Ipswich Film Theatre is screening a restored print of the cinema classic Gone With The Wind during the run-up to Christmas.

It’s the variety of the films on offer that makes it important for independent cinema to survive.