Oundle Cinema Thrives in Age of the Multiplex

The Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge is one more regional cinema under threat from closure. Director Baroness Kidron said that it was crucial to keep cinemas outside London open to rebalance the growing divide in arts spending between the capital and the rest of the country. With this in mind, our local Oundle Cinema, whose residence is in the Stahl Theatre, seems to buck the trend. In this interview, Chris Gill, founding director, discusses various aspects of running a cinema and much more.

What film are you most looking forward to this season?

The film I was most looking forward to seeing was ‘Wadjda’. It’s a ground breaking film coming out of Saudi Arabia and it’s made by a woman. She had to do a lot of direction from a van because she wasn’t permitted to be seen in public. It was an astounding achievement, providing a great insight into Saudi society, showing women’s places. It was slow-moving, but I wasn’t disappointed by it.

What’s your favourite film of all time?

There was a Japanese film called Departures. It was a fantastic film, about a redundant cellist. He responded to a vacancy advertisement for a company called Departures, thinking that it was a travel firm. So he applied, and was rather disconcerted to see that the company was an undertakers. Nevertheless, he stayed on. It’s a very sensitive film about the handling of dead bodies. There was a certain amount of humour in it, as well as some pathos and a very moving storyline. On the night of the showing, the audience included 20 Japanese people. It also resonated with our local audience. That was a film I will always remember. It depends what mood you’re in. We all remember comedies that had us rolling in the aisles that you would love to see again. But equally, there are some dramatic, thought-provoking films that will always stay with you, so it depends.

How do you decide which film to show in the cinema?

We have a committee meeting towards the end of the previous season, and we construct a longlist which we try to reduce to a list of eight or ten films that we want to screen. We try and have two or three films of the ten that will get a really decent audience of perhaps 150 to 200 people, to cover our costs. This lets us have the rest of the season for films with a slightly more specialist taste. We get an audience of 50 to 130 for these films and don’t run at a loss overall. These films always have a small audience, but nevertheless the films are always appreciated, which is rewarding. So, we have this structure that we try to follow. We try to include at least one comedy, and it’s very nice to show British films.

Could you tell us a bit about the History of the Oundle Cinema?

There hadn’t been a cinema in Oundle since 1963. When my wife and I moved to Oundle we felt that the town would benefit from a community cinema. In 2004 we got a group of people together to form the committee, none of which knew the slightest about running a cinema! We had to find out about
all-sorts. The first screening was a sell-out. We showed the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate. People seemed to enjoy it, so we were encouraged. Gradually we got ourselves capitalised, and were able to purchase the necessary equipment. We’re now in our ninth season.

Do you plan to expand further?

We have an agreement with Oundle School for the maximum number of slots available for use of The Stahl Theatre, which runs its own programme of events. There is a pretty good equilibrium, because if we were to show a lot more, I think we would have difficulty finding volunteers to do all the jobs. Each screening requires about ten or twelve people to staff all the jobs.

What is the Outreach Programme?

Well, soon after the Cinema started, the village of Wadenhoe asked about screening a film in their village hall. We screened Brief Encounter. Then more villages enquired about showing a film. Gradually, we acquired additional equipment to make the process easier. These days there are about eight or ten villages that regularly show films. We have had four projectionists who volunteer to screen the films in outlying villages. It got to the point where we were showing 100 films a year, which is a lot of time for the volunteers. Now, we’ve encouraged villages to set themselves up independently. We’re quite pleased with the Outreach Programme. It’s now on a sustainable footing. It’s very good to see village cohesion promoted in this way.

Why do think Oundle Cinema is so effective?

There are a lot of people, particularly among the older generation who do not like going to out-of-town multiplexes, which are also a long drive from Oundle. I think people like being close to a conveniently located cinema which shows relevant films. Our motto is “Showing films worth seeing”’. There are so many films worth seeing! We are lucky that we have complete independence as to what we show; we’re not in the hands of some distributor. The position that we would like to achieve is that people come to a screening purely because we’re showing it. Hopefully we will get somewhere towards that.

By George Carmichael