There’s been some concern for the future of independent cinema in London with three of the capital’s leading venues going, gone or under threat.
The Roxy in London Bridge has changed management, the Riverside in Hammersmith is being redeveloped and the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury is up for sale.
Luckily for those living in the area, East London is bucking the trend (forgive the cliché) after an 80-seat Hackney warehouse began screening films in April and a 40-seat venue is set to open this autumn near Shoreditch.
And given who’s behind the projects, independent film lovers should be happy with the experience they find: intimate, experimental and escapist.
Close Up will open its new cinema on Brick Lane this autumn which will no doubt match the connoisseurial offering of its highly respected library of the same name. But it’s the accidental Hollywood Spring, just off Well Street, that is giving independent film programmers an exciting new space to redefine a night at the movies.
Events rather than screenings, is how former actor and director David Thompson described what he offers at the off-street venue that is more speakeasy than silver screen: bands, DJs, Q&A sessions and even a kids’ workshop have all featured during and after films.
Located on a small industrial estate, you enter via a small alley, pass the bar adorned with velvet curtains, through a corridor decorated with lamps and sideboards, and into the cinema laid out with tables, chairs and sofas lit by candlelight with a projector overseeing it all.
The retro feel is perfect for the selection of mainly 60s, 70s and 80s independent and alternative films Thompson and his team of curators carefully select each month.
“I’m trying to create a cinema I’d like to go to,” Thompson said, “We show the darker stuff, the unloved stuff, arthouse. Programmers spend weeks agonising over which film to show, which trailer to choose and what short film to include. It’s like Scala (the legendary Kings Cross cinema that closed in 1993) in a warehouse.”
A number of independent film nights lost their spiritual home after the Roxy changed management in December last year. No doubt aware of this, its former manager, Phil Wood, organised an event at the Hackney Picture House in January where Thompson first met the three film programmers he now works with. It was entitled: How to become your own cinema.
Three months later and they were screening John Carpenter’s classic Assault on Precinct 13 on 16mm to a packed house with a tribute band playing the soundtrack during the film. In May a two-day event featured music documentaries on electronic sound pioneer Delia Derbyshire and jazz legends Sun Ra and Chet Baker followed by live jazz for film goers to hang out and have a drink to rather than be rushed out as you might normally expect.
And in June they took things a step further with a three-day weekender that included 70s British road movie Radio On, horror flicks Feminist Carnivores and Dust Devil, a Euro-crime double bill that included Tarantino’s inspiration for Pulp Fiction, The Boss, and kids film The Iron Giant.
Many of the films are shown on 16mm out of love rather than necessity, which is not surprising given one of the programmers is respected 16 and 35mm archivist Josh Saco of Cigarette Burns.
Fellow programmer and European film fan Justin Harries, of Roxy regular FilmBar70, said: “I think people respond to the organic nature of [16mm]. They can see the light flickering, the noise of the reel-to-reel. It may not be perfect, [but] there is the allure of what you see is what you get.”
The rawness and unique feel of reel-to-reel is in keeping with the venue and the vision, something that multiscreens often lack, the team agree. Similarly, a key part of the cinema experience is lost watching a film on a computer screen or, god forbid, a mobile phone, Saco said.
“Most films, especially older ones, were made to be watched on a big screen in a cinema. No film director ever said ‘I can’t wait for a kid to watch my film alone in their bedroom on their phone’.”
Thompson is hopeful the Hollywood Spring will become a popular Hackney haunt despite the Picturehouse, Rio and Rich Mix all within a mile or two. “I don’t feel like we’re in competition with anyone. There’s a gap in the cult market and we offer something different. I think this can succeed by becoming a neighbourhood thing for the people of Hackney.”
* The Hollywood Spring is holding an all-day freebie today (Sat Aug 16) featuring a live band playing classic film soundtracks, a film mash-up showing London through the ages, and culminating in a 16mm showing of John Waters black comedy Pink Flamingos.
September will see a month-long programme as part of the Scalarama season. Check website for details