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Sign of the times as Cumbrian cinema set to swap film for digital

A cinema which was threatened with closure is one of a few in the UK that still uses 35mm film.

Penrith cinema photo
Darren Horne in the projection room

But changes in the way films are now made means it must go digital this year if it is to keep up with audience demand.

Darren Horne, manager of the Penrith Alhambra and lecturer at the College of the Arts Carlisle, said: “We think we are one of the last cinemas to go digital – certainly all of the multiplexes are.”

The current 35mm films are heavy and Mr Horne says often “difficult to transport”.

He said: “We have to change because our options are becoming more limited.

“We still effectively tape together our 35mm film. It’s not much different to how it was in the early 1900s.

“Disney’s new film John Carter is not on 35mm film. It’s just not available in that format. Some movie producers have stopped it altogether. A lot of the new 3D films like Star Wars are only available in digital format. When The Lion King was shown in 3D we were unable to show it in Penrith because it was only available in digital.

“It limits us and therefore it limits our audience so we have to change. It’s a lot cheaper to make.

“Digital means we would download the film onto our system and then upload it – from then on it would be computer operated.

“If a film did really well for instance and it was packed out then that would mean we could delay the start of it until everyone had taken their seats. That’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer customer service like that.

“We would be able to show football matches and theatre.”

The cinema hopes to introduce the new digital format by the end of the year.

Mr Horne added: “I think with new technology it is a mixture of excitement and sadness. I love cinema and I love film and I think there is a certain romanticism about film so I will be sad to see it go.”

The cost for the two screens at Penrith will be £30,000 in total. Mr Horne said: “This is one of the reasons why we had to get rid of the Keswick cinema because we would not have been able to afford to make both Penrith and Keswick digital.”

The Keswick Alhambra is now being run by Tom Rennie.

The Penrith cinema on Middlegate was saved from closure last April when Graves (Cumberland) Ltd agreed a 10-year extension to its current lease.

A Save Penrith Cinema campaign was launched last January when thousands of people signed a petition and marched through the town’s streets in protest.

A community purchase committee was formed to buy out the cinema. This raised £120,000 in two months.

Mr Horne said: “The cinema is going well since the protests over the proposed closure last year. I read somewhere recently that the average cinema-going audience is aged between 16 and 24 but this is not the case in Penrith. Since the start of the year we’ve had War Horse, The Iron Lady, The Artist and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. All of them have attracted a more mature audience.

“We don’t usually open for matinees but we have recently as the films have been so popular.”

Have your say

@Alex - I think it is you who is uninformed. The likes of Vue,Odeon, cineworld etc are pretty much all digital and as they make up a massive proportion of cinemas in the uk 35mm really isn't as popular or financially viable as it used to be.

Posted by Kes on 5 March 2012 at 09:33

Darren is badly informed if he thinks they're on of the last Cinemas to go digital in the UK, it's still pretty normal to be projecting film, I recently saw Ghost Protocol at the Showcase and it was on film.
A quick Google to see if John Carter isn't available in 35mm just brought me back to this page.

Posted by Alex Hosking on 4 March 2012 at 18:54

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