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Hoylake's Cinema Paradiso

Laura Brown on the magic of Daniel Craig's favourite village screen

Written by . Published on September 20th 2013.

Hoylake's Cinema Paradiso

AS the film credits roll at Hoylake’s newest cinema, a boy turns to his dad. 

“What did you think?” the dad asks. Eyes bright and shining the boy turns first from the screen and then to his dad. “That was just brilliant”. He says. 

How often do you find yourself jumping on a train to Cornerhouse to catch a film you’ve read a rave review about but isn’t playing in Liverpool?

Formative film experiences are a rite of passage. For Mark Howard it was Kes, the Ken Loach film. A generation later he was able to invite the film’s star Dai Bradley, who plays Billy, for a special screening and Q and A at Hoylake Community Cinema. 

Cinema is going through a difficult teenage phase in Liverpool. It isn’t just the blue drinks, the smartphone light display and constant chatter that’s awkward about cinema in the city; it doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. 

DanielGood enough for 007. good enough for you

Cinemas have been one of the easiest things we’ve found to shake off in Liverpool and our standards have fallen pretty far. As we’ve let heritage screens fall into rack and ruin all we need now is someone to dangle an independent movie screening in front of us and we think we’re being served well. We’re either being educated or brainwashed in Liverpool. 

Hoylake, like an usher with a torch, is showing us the way. 

There used to be a cinema on every corner in Liverpool. It’s only now we realise what we’re missing. We don’t have any choice. FACT is great but it’s only got four screens and they can’t show everything.

AlexAlex Cox: PatronThe less mainstream films get pushed to a 6.30 showing which many people can’t get to. The Box often seems like it’s empty for some artists' screenings and you never feel you hear about them. The Odeon is great if the latest blockbuster is all you want but it’s pricey and much of it isn’t exactly challenging. 

How often do you find yourself jumping on a train to Cornerhouse to catch a film you’ve read a rave review about but isn’t playing in Liverpool?

The problem is that cinema in Liverpool has become about two things; educating what’s perceived to be an artistically illiterate mass or making money. And never the twain shall meet. 

Where’s the community? Where’s the enthusiasm? Where’s the people who crave nursing a pint after a screening, having a stand up row about whether it was good or not? 

It’s happening, but it isn’t where you would expect. 

MarkhowardMark HowardHoylake, like pretty much every town and village on Merseyside, hasn’t had a cracking five years. High streets are looking a little tatty. Shops are boarded up. There are more To Let signs than there are buyers. At this point you have two choices. Either do nothing and it slides off into the Mersey or you step in. In Hoylake they decided to step in. 

The community group Hoylake Life was brought together in an attempt to stop the decline. The group “wasn’t about producing pop-up shops but figuring out how the town was suffering and what we could do about it”. It was about generating a buzz, proving “there’s life in the old girl yet”. 

The community group began launching its own projects, developing marketing ideas and showing people there was more to Hoylake than the empty shops and crumbling high street. 

The idea came to have a screening. It could bring in a bit of cash but more importantly get everyone together. 

They screened Nowhere Boy, the Sam Taylor Wood film about John Lennon. Lots of people came. Everyone had a good time. They realised that instead of applying for grants to raise funds for Hoylake Life they could do it through a regular film night. Win, win. 

So now, on the last Friday of every month they screen a film. With patrons like Daniel Craig and director Alex Cox there’s a blend of arthouse and entertainment.

Hoylake-Community-CentreHoylake Community CentreMark Howard admits that it’s an autocracy. He decides what films to screen each month, but he gets a nice blend. Between now and Christmas is Don’t Look Now, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Apartment, Arthur Christmas and Big Night. 

This isn’t education. It isn’t about pointing out how stupid someone is because they don’t get each film reference. Nor is it about beige-ing out cinema so it fits in with short attention spans and a need to plug in. First and foremost, it’s about community. 

“When I lived in London, “says Mark, “even the most avant garde programme of obscure films could get an audience. But that’s a city of seven million people. You have to pace it with where you live and consider the community. You can push the boundaries but within that framework.” 

That doesn’t mean the films aren’t challenging, nor that they don’t warrant a discussion. Drinks, food and a quiz after each screening at the Parade draw together neighbours and friends. An ideal setting for a regular gathering. 

It works. The screenings are regularly a full house. A tidy income is coming into Hoylake and it’s all their own venture. Why has it been so popular? 

“It’s nostalgia. People remember having a cinema on their doorstep” says Mark. “We’re often screening films that people might not have seen, but they trust you with your choices. You’re inviting people to try something new and they trust you won’t choose something poor”. It has spread on word of mouth. 

ApartmentThe ApartmentNow other villages across Merseyside want to adopt the same model. Anyone can do it, Mark believes, all it needs is a little commitment. And when we live in a city that prides itself on its friendliness, but we barely know our neighbours, wouldn’t that be something? 

It might also encourage the city centre cinemas to up their game. 

The late, great Anthony Minghella said of film that as it is such a significant and popular medium it should be accessible to all communities in its most potent form, which is cinema. 

Cinema by the people, for the people. It almost sounds like a revolution. 

Hoylake Community Cinema listings can be found here.

Follow Laura Brown on Twitter 

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Playitagain SamSeptember 20th 2013.

Yes, why DO I have to go to Oxford Road to watch the latest interesting cinema releases? Come on FACT, get your finger out!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Otto SpoolSeptember 28th 2013.

HEAR HEAR! I joined before it opened but I let my FACT membership lapse years ago! If they put the emphasis on decent films at sensible times and took it off gimmicky rubbish like selling popcorn they just might attract me back.

RamseySeptember 28th 2013.

Good that the Hoylake cinema is doing this, but FACT is doing a pretty good job, given the audiences it gets. Look at the Hitchcock season, for instance: www.picturehouses.co.uk/…/…

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Otto SpoolSeptember 28th 2013.

What is wrong with the audiences it gets?

Otto SpoolSeptember 29th 2013.

(Apart of course, from how rude they are, how much they talk during the films and how noisily they eat junk food. And the filthy stains they leave on the seats.)

RamseySeptember 30th 2013.

I meant the size of the audiences for some of the films. We've never encountered the kind of behaviour there that you cite, and we often go there.

BergmanSeptember 29th 2013.

FACT may well have four screens but as long as they are showing the same crap as is being shown at the Odeon I really can't see the point of the place.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 29th 2013.

Hear hear!

RamseySeptember 30th 2013.

They began by showing almost no films that the Odeon circuit took. Alas, that wasn't well supported. But what you say isn't entirely true - this week, for instance, they have HANNAH ARENDT, BLUE JASMINE, SALEM'S LOT, IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, THE GREAT BEAUTY and LEVIATHAN.

Mark HowardOctober 1st 2013.

Really proud to read this article, but the point is being missed in the comments. This is about doing it yourself! We are doing this with NO MONEY! That is the point. Put the energy into making something happen instead of criticising what is already there... and great things will happen. THAT is the Liverpool spirit.

1 Response: Reply To This...
RamseyOctober 2nd 2013.

Fair enough, Mark. If you ever want me to introduce a film, do get in touch. Ramsey Campbell

Mark HowardOctober 6th 2013.

Sounds good, please mail me at mark.howard@hoylakevillage.org.uk Apols for the rant! Another level of cinema experience is within easy reach for everyone but all the expectation for delivery seems to be on multiplexes and arts cinemas… there is another option, anyone can do it, it is great, and it doesn't take away from either of the above!

AnonymousOctober 7th 2013.

Urban Strawberry Lunch are a great example of people doing it for themselves ans right in the city centre. They present films very week in the grounds of St Luke's bombed out church and are well worth catching. Now all they need on there is a bloody roof.

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