Why don’t British individuals come together to preserve a historical movie theater, like the directors in LA have done?

Why don’t British individuals come together to preserve a historical movie theater, like the directors in LA have done?


One of the most beautiful movie theaters in Los Angeles, the massive Village Theater in Westwood, has been purchased by a group of renowned filmmakers including Jason Reitman, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Lulu Wang, Chloé Zhao, Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón, Ryan Coogler, Bradley Cooper, and Gina Prince-Bythewood.

In 1919, four prominent movie-makers – Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and DW Griffith – joined forces to establish the United Artists Corporation movie studio. This event evokes a sense of early Hollywood nostalgia.

This isn’t the initial occasion where directors have purchased a display space. Quentin Tarantino possesses two cinemas in Los Angeles, such as the Vista. Additionally, avant-garde expert Jonas Mekas helped establish the Anthology Film Archives in New York in 1970, which continues to invigorate the fringes of film culture.

In the United Kingdom, certain individuals involved in creating films have made attempts. In Scotland, for instance, Jeremy Thomas, known for producing The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci and Crash by David Cronenberg, was a co-owner of Edinburgh’s Cameo Picturehouse for a period of time. Even Tilda Swinton and I dabbled in the realm of movie projectors and popcorn with our temporary pop-up cinema, The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams, reminiscent of the Scottish myth of Brigadoon.

However, despite the struggles and closures of cinemas in multiple cities such as Bristol and Edinburgh, it is unclear why directors based in the UK have not taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase them.

The Village Theater in Westwood.View image in fullscreen

The initial and apparent solution is wealth. Most of us who hold director positions do not earn nearly enough to have an extra few hundred thousand dollars.

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

The sums of money available for these institutions are limited and lack security, especially in the case of council funding. Cinemas and arts centres often have to become charities in order to receive these funds. While it is possible to donate to these organizations, it is not possible to invest in them as they do not operate for profit. Additionally, they often offer specialized screenings and film education, making them more than just commercial entities. As a result, the film exhibition scene in many UK cities is more diverse and thriving compared to similar locations in the US.

Due to significant budget cuts, the sustainability of the cinematheque model is currently in jeopardy. However, acclaimed directors such as Lynne Ramsay, Jonathan Glazer, Charlotte Wells, Edgar Wright, Andrea Arnold, Danny Boyle, and Stephen Frears all attest to the crucial role these cinemas play in showcasing bold and innovative films that serve as inspiration for their own work. Personally, my passion for filmmaking was reignited after watching The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On at Edinburgh Filmhouse in the 1990s. Despite its closure 15 months ago, efforts are being made to save and revive this vital institution.

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

The Village Theater was acquired by American film-makers who share a deep love for cinema. They are dedicated to preserving its legacy and will not simply rely on financial gains. The UK’s publicly-funded approach also reflects a belief in film as a valuable art form. Is there a possibility of combining these similar initiatives?

The Nuovo Sacher in Rome is owned by director Nanni Moretti and is a charming establishment. Nearby, the Cinema Troisi is a motivating cinema and education center operated by a foundation, with financial support from the government. It is frequently filled with young viewers and is the ideal spot in Rome to launch a new film. Could we in the UK follow this model and bring together film industry leaders and community collaborators? The Cinema for All organization backs 1,600 film societies and clubs throughout the UK, creating 1,600 grassroots cinema venues…

Looking back at the United States, we come across another fascinating 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) and were established by Michael Moore. The State theater is truly impressive, with its ceiling adorned with 2,000 fiber-optic lights and luxurious velvet curtains. The theater’s website highlights its rich history and values, stating that it was transformed into a year-round, volunteer-run arthouse cinema in 2007. The State is committed to creating a sense of community and discovery by showcasing the best new releases and independent films that offer transformative storytelling.

The method appears to be effective. The film director and the support from the community aim to portray the human experience in impactful ways. Is the popularity of going to the movies increasing compared to previous years? If so, let’s continue to encourage and support it.

Source: theguardian.com