Based on recent experience, the middle of winter is the best time of the year to go to the cinema. It’s the awards season of course and most of the films that are nominated for BAFTAs, Oscars and the like, are released around this time. This year it seems that ‘The Imitation Game’, ‘Birdman’ and ‘Theory of Everything’ are the British films in the frame with ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ also making a strong case.
Going to the cinema is in the top 10 of leisure activities in the UK according to government statistics. In fact, the peak year for UK cinema attendance was 1946 with an incredible 1.64 billion attendances. This fell to a low of 54 million in 1984 but has recovered to a steady 160-170 million in recent years. Internationally, we see a film about half as often as Americans, but in Europe only in France do people go more frequently.
In South London we’re spoilt for choice in terms of cinemas, with multiplexes such as Peckham and Surrey Quays, the IMAX at Waterloo and National Film Theatre on the South Bank run by the British Film Institute, and the ‘art house’ chain Picture Houses. The Picture Houses group seems to be on something of an expansion programme in South London, already owning the Greenwich and Clapham Picture Houses along with the Ritzy in Brixton. (SLB hope there will be a positive outcome for staff at the Ritzy in their dispute with the Picture Houses Group). Three will shortly become five – the East Dulwich Picture House will open soon with the former St Thomas More Hall in Lordship Lane undergoing conversion, while Lambeth Council have recently announced a partnership with the same company to convert the Nettlefold Hall in West Norwood into a cinema.
People do seem to love these smaller, more intimate cinemas. The combination of cafe, bar and cinema is a winning one and now Crystal Palace wants one of them too. The ‘Picture Palace Campaign’ has been started by the local community to bring a former cinema, currently used by a church organisation, back to its original use. The building, at 25 Church Road, has been subject to a ‘change of use’ planning application and the campaigners are fighting this, in order to preserve its status as a place of entertainment so that a new cinema can then be developed. You can sign the petition on their website.
It’s interesting that the Picture Palace Campaign say that a cinema will be ‘a resource to improve the quality of life’ in the area, also mentioning the economic benefits and contribution to the regeneration of the area. It’s evident then, that this kind of cinema is widely regarded as a kind of cultural hub for the community, and in a broader context is an expression of the urban revival going on in many areas of London and other cities across the UK.