Phoenix’s new boss reaches out to the next generation

Time has stood still for the Phoenix cinema over the last 100 years. But, while one of the country’s oldest picture houses trades on tradition, its willingness to push the boundaries has helped keep it on the artistic map.

To celebrate its centenary, the Phoenix enjoyed a �1million reincarnation in 2011 and it was around the same time that new general manager Cassie Birtwistle experienced her watershed moment.

With the age of the cinema’s average customer at 51 years, ultra-violent French language film A Prophet seemed like a horse too risky to back at the box office for the 34-year-old, who took on her new role last month.

“This was something I just thought they couldn’t handle.

‘‘The film was geared towards a 30-year-old male audience and, although it was an art house film, it still seemed one step too far,” said Mrs Birtwistle, who started off as the cinema’s marketing assistant before quickly becoming cinema manager.

“But we did really well with that film and, since then, we thought we couldtake more chances.”


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Seen as a safe pair of hands by the Phoenix’s trustees, Mrs Birtwistle was speaking to the Ham&High as she prepared to screen What Is It?, dubbed a “disabled porno shocker” by one critic and featuring an entire cast of actors with Down’s syndrome.

Although the cinema’s programme also lists the classic It’s A Wonderful Life among its forthcoming films, Mrs Birtwistle sees the controversial film as an opportunity to encourage a new audience through the door.

She said: “This is really far outside of our usual audience. But it’s great because a whole new crowd are coming to see the Phoenix and, hopefully, they will come back to see a film here and then we have managed to reach new people.

“I feel we have a really good balance between what is going to make us money and what we want to do artistically.”

During her stewardship, Mrs Birtwistle wants to grow the education side of the East Finchley venue, which ranks respected film critic Mark Kermode and Kentish Town resident Michael Palin among its patrons.

She plans on bringing more schools into the historic building for film workshops.

“I feel we could be more of a resource for the community in terms of film education, doing film workshops and working with young people who want to get into the industry,” she said.

“It’s great because, after they have made the film, we can show it on the big screen to them and their family.

‘‘It’s hard to put a price tag on that. If we can reach younger people and get them excited about film, then hopefully that’s building an audience for the future.”