[Images courtesy of Hyde Park Picture House]
On the 7th November 2014, Hyde Park Picture House turns an incredible 100 years old, having opened in 1914 just after the outbreak of the First World War. Last week we caught up with Ollie Jenkins at the Picture House to chat about what makes it so special, what kept it going through two world wars and what we can expect from its birthday celebrations…
When asked what makes the picture house so special, Ollie concluded that it is a unique combination of things, with the community of volunteers and staff being a key factor. Ollie, who started out as a volunteer there himself, described how the cinema is ‘run by a nice community of people who have come into film with different perspectives and from different backgrounds which is really great. Often people volunteer here either to meet like-minded people, or because they are new to the city: the cinema being a great way to meet people. The audiences we get are all really great and normally come here through a common love of film’. He described them as ‘respectful audiences’, creating ‘an atmosphere which can just be really lovely’. It certainly seems that a passion for cinema is something that bonds not only the staff, but the audience together: something that has kept the picture house running as people can share this passion at the cinema.
The building itself adds to this atmosphere. Ollie describes how ‘the cinema today is made up of lots of different elements that have been introduced to the building throughout the decades. A lot of things here are original. The general physical nature of the building has not changed: some of the features such as the balcony are exactly the same, and the windows in the doors are from 1914. But lots of features have been introduced at various points. There are hints throughout the building at different eras and different styles which are interesting, such as the gaslights which were introduced in the 1930s.’
*click thumbnails to enlarge
As soon as you step into the cinema you are struck by its quaint and charming personality which has been preserved over time. This makes you feel right at home unlike the alien multiplexes. Ollie recognises that the cinema is lucky and has been able to survive ‘by being able to adapt to the many changes that have come to the film industry throughout the years, whether that was the introduction of sound, the development of home entertainment and now the internet. It has found its place within this changing landscape, and in response to multiplexes has now gone to a market where it caters for films which people wouldn’t otherwise be able to see in Leeds, such as art-house, foreign language and independent films’.
Ollie states that the aesthetics of the building and its atmosphere is one of the reasons people like to visit the picture house. ‘It provides a nicer experience than maybe a corporate mulitplex’. The nature of the building certainly fits in with the type of films the cinema shows, which are just as unusual and wonderful. Furthermore, Ollie believes that ‘there is a trend growing for an appreciation for authenticity and history, with people looking back fondly and with nostalgia’, and this is not just with cinema. Leeds in particular has a strong independent scene and the Hyde Park Picture House fits right in with this.
Ollie then went on to talk about all the wonderful things going on in celebration of their centenary. ‘The birthday itself is actually the first proper day of the Leeds International Film Festival and coincides with Leeds Free Cinema Week, so we are working with them. We have films on all day selected from each country in the UK. The main event is in the evening when we are transforming the cinema back to 1914. There will be showing lots of exciting things on the screen that were shown during that year, the year we first opened, such as news reels, travelogues, dramas, and comedies, like the first Chaplin film. A live swing/jazz band will take us back to that era playing some great music, and we are hopefully going to be decorating the cinema with propaganda posters and things like that – when we opened it was just after the war started, so that was in the public mentality. On the night too, special guests have been invited who have supported us throughout the years – such as past volunteers – and hopefully it will be a really nice celebration with everyone coming together to celebrate making it to the big one hundred years! I hope that many will dress-up formally to suit the style which would be amazing’. It certainly sounds like a wonderful night to be a part of!
*click thumbnails to enlarge
Hyde Park Picture House has also commissioned its first film with Leeds arts organisation, Pavilion. Ollie tells us how they have ‘commissioned artist Luke Fowler and artist musician Mark Fell who are currently making a film based in the Pavilion archive. Pavilion started out as a feminist photography gallery and they still exist today. They have an amazing archive of their activities over the years which is really exciting to be exploring’. The film will premiere at the picture house on November 22nd with free screenings occurring after this on a semi-regular basis until the new year. It is certainly an exciting project, and hopefully the start of many other projects and commissions. The cinema is also collaborating with the University of Leeds in exploring the relationship between WW1 and film, as well as producing some beautiful merchandise in celebration of its centenary.
When asked about his favourite aspect of the cinema and why he enjoyed working there, Ollie struggled to pick just one point. ‘Every day is a totally different experience… you do not know who is going to call and what is going to happen each day’. He described how many people turn up with ‘amazing stories about the cinema: pensioners who used to come as students and people who had their first dates here. It is such an amazing building with such an amazing history and to be a part of that makes me feel really lucky’.
© Ollie Jenkins
Hyde Park Picture House has clearly made a mark on many people’s lives over its 100 years, and the celebration of its centenary will not only be a wonderful event, but meaningful to many. May it continue to make a mark on others’ lives for another century and hopefully beyond!
Filed under: Film, TV & Tech