Another nail in the coffin . . .

It is not widely reported that the Picturehouse chain is sacking (via redundancy) its projectionists with the exception of the Central venue in London and their facility at the Bradford Media Museum. The latter is restricted by the contract between Picturehouse and the Museum.

Quite a few of the Picturehouse venues, including York’s City Screen, have 35mm and/or 70mm projection. Presumably these will be standing idle from now on. It is sad to see the chain, which had a slightly more varied programme than the multiplexes, joining the rush to downsize the cinema industry. The University of Warwick have a research project into this issue: they estimate 90% of the qualified technical staff in exhibition have already been given the push.

I heard about this by word of mouth. There is little reporting on the issue, even on the internet. The Little Bit Ritzy in Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse venues both have webpages on this.

Inevitably 35mm and 70mm projection is going to reduce further. And do not believe the hype about digital standards. In Britain nearly all DCPs are 2K or even of lower quality. So far this year I have seen more 35mm prints than I have seen 4K DCPs. To achieve the standard of 35mm requires between 7K and 12K (estimates vary).

Moreover digital projection is not just about pressing buttons. The justification of Cineworld, who now own Picturehouse, is that the industry has moved over to digital. They should learn from their own experience. I tried to watch a Hindi-language film at the Bradford Cineworld. The title was in 2.35:1 but the drapes there were set to 1.85:1! it took three complaints and 30 minutes before the manager (who controlled the technical side) rectified the error.

The cinema in Leeds Light (built for the South African Ster-Kinekor chain known in the UK as ‘Ster Century’) has/had masking for different ratios but since it was taken over by Vue this facility is never used. And the illumination during features varies from quite low to exceedingly bright depending on which auditorium one is in. When I complained regarding the light level that made low-key scenes impenetrable the manager claimed this was the standard level.

Cineworld have already had strikes over low wages at Picturehouse venues this year. It seems that at least at some of the outlets there are protests about the issue. But the deafening silence on the issue means that (probably) most members or customers are unaware of what is happening.

The lost art …


  1. Roy Stafford

    Picturehouses are also the cause for concern re their new venture in West Norwood, South London where they are planning to open a cinema with Lambeth Council and apparently trying to persuade the council to accept what could be bad practice re building/planning regulations. Lambeth Council is also a ‘London Living Wage’ supporter – and Picturehouses has got a bad record on paying Living Wage rates. In Lewisham it looks like the council are going to partner Curzon because of the employment issues at Picturehouses. All this is discussed on the Brixton Blog.


  2. John Hall

    Shameful. Thanks for spreading the word. The Curzon chain in London and elsewhere is just as bad. All has been surrendered to the profit motive.


  3. keith1942

    Roy’s comments are to the point. When Cineworld bought Picturehouse, as I remember, there were some assurances regarding the autonomy and running of the chain. These are presumably are unenforceable.
    As for profits, that is the rationale of such companies. What is of concern is the short-termism of the company policy. Essentially, for corporations, cinema exhibition is the ‘front page’ of their operations; exhibition box office still affects sales and rentals in other formats. But I wonder if that is a long-term strategy. We are getting new screens but increasingly they seem less like cinemas and more like video lounges. The deterioration in projection provision seems part of a change that will make cinema as a public space either redundant or as specialist as staged opera.
    And the BFI strategy seems, as usual, to limp along behind. Much of their annual provision goes into production, and many of the titles never actually see the inside of a cinema. We do need a strategy to defend and retain independent exhibition.


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