What does the future hold for the cinemas of north London?
- Credit: Archant
Louie Freeman-Bassett explains why Everyman and Picturehouse should be collaborating, not competing, to keep the torch lit for film in the capital.
It’s a good time to be a film fan in north London. Earlier this year cinema chain Everyman added their own brand of luxury to the local cinema scene with the purchase of Odeon cinemas in Barnet and Muswell Hill.
Picturehouse also added to their collection with a new cinema in Crouch End, to go with their plush new flagship Picturehouse Central.
Everyman has inherited two architectural beauties with both buildings being Grade II listed for their ‘30s modernist design.
Muswell Hill had come to look and feel particularly shabby under Odeon’s ownership and will no doubt undergo a revival in the capable hands of Everyman with their eye for bold and brilliant interiors. Picturehouse meanwhile open the doors in late November to a new four screen cinema in Crouch End, a few doors down from much loved independent The ArtHouse, which has built a loyal fan base. The newcomer also has the ability to screen 35mm film – an important touch, which will not go unnoticed.
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These cinemas join a rich and thriving scene that includes the flourishing century old Phoenix in East Finchley with the brilliantly programmed Rio in Dalston. These are flanked by a bustle of societies, clubs and curators in the area; like the celluloid guardians Cigarette Burns, short film pioneers Kino London, and more locally the Highgate Film Society.
It’s a decent list that feels good to reel off, but it’s, frankly a bit contrived to mention them all in the same ‘independent’ breath.
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Despite both claiming the title, Everyman is run under Everyman Media Group PLC which had a 2014 revenue of £14m and its recent purchases funded by investors like the Lewis Trust Group – owners of River Island.
Picturehouse, more famously, was bought by Cineworld in 2012 for £47.3m, reportedly making its MD a multimillionaire in the process and offering the ability to buy more sites and expand.
Not that there can be much objection when they are running enormously popular successful cinema chains providing a consistent and reliable conduit for original filmmaking in the UK. But the space they occupy is somewhere in between the genuinely community focused independent cinemas and the multiplex leviathans.
It stretches the word ‘independent’ when you’re owned by Europe’s second largest cinema chain, with revenues exceeding £600m (as of 2014) and over 1,858 screens. You can’t have your caramelised, crushed black pepper and sea salt popcorn and eat it too.
The coming of the Crouch End Picturehouse in November will be interesting to see how this middle ground is negotiated: can these luxury middleweights coexist with their smaller, less muscular neighbours? The Picturehouse in question will be literally two doors down from the comparatively diminutive ArtHouse. Speaking to The Guardian earlier this year, its owner was bullish, saying that it is Picturehouse who’d falter: “We’ve got so much community support,” he said, “I don’t see how they’re going to survive.”
Most cinema fans wouldn’t want either to go under. Picturehouse might have lost fans with their sale and the protests over living wage, but not only are their cinemas almost always pristine and well programmed, they do important work for a sector that is generally unseen. Working with various independents, for example, in helping them to get films from distributors at lower rates than they’d be able to themselves.
Picturehouse and Everyman, then, will of course be welcome jewels in north London’s cinematic crown. It is simply hoped that this collaborative spirit prevails over pure competition. That diversity remains valued. Entertaining, progressive film remains the end and not the means.