Why drive to a soulless out-of-town cinema when you can walk to your nearest independent for an altogether richer experience?
The reasons for supporting independent cinemas are plentiful but here are a few to get you started! Scroll down for 6 of the best too.
Most are steeped in history – from Grade II Listed and stunning Art Deco buildings to neglected community halls which had seen better days. Their survival and ongoing maintenance depends on the individuals who now run them.
Independent cinemas are a focal point for community life - they’re where friendships are made, horizons broadened and where vital interactions take place to that make people feel part of their communities.
The program at independents isn’t dictated by Hollywood, as it is at the big multiplexes. What happens at independent cinemas is lovingly and curated by people who know their communities and know what will be well-received. So, there’s an opportunity to try something different. And you won’t just see films! There are usually art exhibitions, comedy nights, live National Theatre streaming, poetry readings and workshops.
Tickets are often much cheaper at independent cinemas. While multiplexes charge around £15 per adult ticket in a big city, that figure’s more like £11 at an independent – and sometimes even less.
On the whole local cinemas invest more in their staff – most pay the living wage while staff at bigger chains are often paid less. And they invest in community, with outreach programmes that help locals.
These places are real magnets – they’re a reason for visiting an area and, when people come, it’s likely they’ll eat and shop at other local business too.
London is changing rapidly - people spend much more time in their local communities. We at the Local Buyers Club think independent cinemas play a crucial role in community life and we’re determined to help fly their flag!
Below are some of our favourites! (If your favourite isn't listed, let us know)
ARTHOUSE, Crouch End
Sam Neophytou is on a mission to keep cinema local. Having poured his heart and soul into the Arthouse on Tottenham Road, he’s now preparing, with his friend and actor George Georgiou, to launch independent cinemas in Barking and Camden.
Their model is making independent cinema a focus for community life. Their Crouch End cinema occupies the former Salvation Army Hall, where Sam went to Sunday School as a child. When they took the building on it was The Music Palace (a drinks and gig venue) in a run-down part of town. £750,000 later they’d transformed it into a two-screen cinema and stage area.
Today the Arthouse Crouch End is bursting with character and its café/bar attracts locals who meet and mingle or take in art exhibitions or poetry readings.
The program here is diverse, from mainstream Hollywood movies to carefully-curated screenings of lesser known films and live National Theatre screenings and comedy. It’s designed to attract the whole community and it’s affordable.
THE RIO, Dalston
If ever there was a symbol of resilience and community, this Art Deco cinema in Dalston is it!
(Credit Rio Cinema)
Its various guises have included an auctioneer’s shop, grand cinema and Tatler Club showing ‘adult films.’ Now, it’s a thriving independent two-screen cinema, run as a not-for-profit charity.
The program is diverse and usually includes a weekly arthouse or blockbuster feature film and a cut-price children’s Saturday Picture Club. The Rio works closely with the local East End community offering events for schools, families, people on low incomes and the elderly.
This Grade II Listed Building requires a lot of upkeep – much of the money from ticket and food and drink sales foes back into its maintenance.
Olly Meek, Executive Director of the Rio said: “I urge locals to make the best of this wonderful community cinema and support the appeal to help preserve its place on our High Street. It shows the very best movies, is considerably cheaper than big-chain cinemas, has very comfortable seats and there’s a brilliant café bar with beers from Dalston and further afield. You’d be hard-pushed to find a cinema with as much charm and history as this.”
It was named one of London’s best cinemas by the Daily Telegraph and received an accolade for Best Cinema Bar by the Evening Standard.
GENESIS CINEMA, Mile End
This cinema has a beautiful backstory.
When owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborn came across it, it had been derelict for 10 years – there were gaping holes in the roof and plenty of wear and fire damage.
(Credit: Genesis Cinema)
This was Tyrone’s first venture into cinema – he’d always loved films and, when he found a suitable site, had the gumption to call 20th Century Fox to get some advice on how to run a cinema.
He took his dad, a former roofer, to see it and was blown away to learn this was where his parents had courted at in the 60s.
Tyrone has renovated this five-screen cinema beautifully. It’s glamorous – you can snuggle in a sofa here, watch a movie and enjoy a glass of wine. There’s a lovely café downstairs and a bar upstairs serving brilliant cocktails. There’s also a gallery with stunning artwork.
His parents were there for the opening night and, though his dad is deaf, he didn’t miss a thing – their first screening was of the silent movie The Artist.
Tyrone said: “Afterwards my dad came up to me and said: ‘Son that was amazing. One of the best nights I’ve ever had.”
The land the cinema sits on has been used for entertainment since 1848 when it was a pub – it later became a music hall. In 1884 it was destroyed by fire and it was redesigned by architect Frank Matcham and rebuilt as Paragon Theatre of Varieties. At a time when overcrowding, poor ventilation and fumes from gas lamps made theatres pretty unpleasant, Matcham’s theatre was hailed the “best ventilated in London” and others with similar design quickly sprung up.
Numerous stars performed here, including Charlie Chaplin just before he reached Hollywood fame, Laurel & Hardy and Barbara Windsor.
The building was used as a cinema from 1912 and eventually closed down in 1989. Its fortunes turned around in 1999 when Tyrone took the helm.
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PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA, Leicester Square
This is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite cinema! It’s the last independent cinema still operating in the West End – the seating is comfortable, the tickets good value and the programming is eclectic!
(Credit: Nicole Enelmann Photography @ne_moments)
The building originally opened as a theatre in 1962 and the switch to a cinema happened in the early 90s. Their all-nighters are legendary and have included back-to-back Harry Potter screenings and the whole Jurassic Park series. They also hold occasional sing-alongs and Q&As with actors and directors.
The Prince Charles Cinema was voted ‘best for fun’ in Time Out’s cinema awards.
Their website states: “From cinema’s origins through to the present day, from all corners of the globe and presented from a variety of formats; including 35mm, 70mm and Digital.
“If it’s a film we believe our audience wants or would enjoy seeing on the big screen, we’ll run it!”
The cinema has two screens and there’s a bar downstairs serving a good selection of drinks and snacks.
CASTLE CINEMA, Clapton
This local treasure was brought back to life thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by entrepreneurial couple Asher Charman and Danielle Swift.
(Credit: The Castle Cinema)
The building first opened in 1913 as an independent single screen cinema: The Castle Electric Theatre, was converted into a bingo hall in 1958 and later into a warehouse and snooker hall. Though much of its original features were safely hidden, the building had become very dilapidated.
When Eat17 took the building on and converted the ground floor into a convenience store, Asher and Danielle, who had run pop-up cinema events before, saw an opportunity.
In March 1916 they launched a Kickstarter campaign in a bid to convert the vacant first floor into a cinema. They raised £57,000 and the Castle Cinema was reborn. The refurb has been stunning, with beautiful plasterwork, a proscenium arch and curved ceiling revealed and preserved.
Today, it’s a vibrant community space offering a brilliant program of films and with a beautiful bar where you can eat and drink whether you’re there for a movie or not! It’s also an affordable venue for community organisations to hold events and for local filmmakers to screen their work.
PHOENIX CINEMA, East Finchley
The fight is on to save the independence of this local cinema.
(Credit: Phoenix Cinema)
in 2018 the Phoenix Cinema Trust halted plans to hand over control over to the cinema chain Curzon following a huge public outcry - Sir Michael Palin and rock legend Robert Plant and film director Ken Loach were among those to speak out.
Mr Loach said the Phoenix: “has a unique identity that combines quality programming with education and community activities for all ages.” Urging people to support a campaign to save it, he added: “Please help the Phoenix rise again with your donations and support – and enjoy visiting this special cinema”
Campaigners feared the cinema would lose its unique identity and atmosphere if it lost its independent status.
This is London’s oldest continually running purpose-built cinema, having been built in 1910. But a recent decline in occupancy and revenue means it’s at risk unless there’s an increase in footfall and income. (See crowdfunding link below)
This place is a hub for the local community and also hosts special events, regular classes and lovely outreach to schools.
Crowdfunding page: justgiving.com/campaign/phoenixrising
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