The World Needs Independent Cinema

Culture Editor RIVKAH BROWN argues that the closing of the Picturehouse will signal a “fundamental and detrimental shift in the nature of film”.


So the UK Competition Commission has seemingly spontaneously decided that Cineworld Plc. must close one of its two Cambridge cinemas: the Cambridge Cineworld or the Picturehouse. While the righteous dismay of the cinema-going bourgeoisie – to which I am admittedly contributing – may give the impression that this is a niche issue, it’s not. The closure of a promoter of independent cinema signals a fundamental and detrimental shift in the nature of film.

Cinemas such as the Arts Picturehouse bridge the gap between exclusive film festivals and the public, ensuring that works of critical rather than commercial acclaim, often small-budget and independently-produced, are given a wider viewing than the festival-going film industry. They screen films with painfully unresolved endings (Beasts of the Southern Wild); films where virtually nothing happens (Amour); and films whose drama is slow-burning, rather than fast-paced (Compliance) – films which replace catering to a mass audience with immense beauty and artistic innovation.

Cineworld is not a viable replacement for the Picturehouse: it currently hosts no fewer than eight daily screenings of One Direction – This Is Us – a film that would make Picturehouse-goers (well most sane people in general) melt like the The Wicked Witch of the West. This is interspersed with six daily doses of Riddick, the opening line of whose trailer, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead”, is the best argument I’ve yet heard as to why Vin Diesel should evaporate off the face of the earth.

Not so sexy without eyebrows or teeth, are you now?

Not so sexy without eyebrows or teeth, are you now?

Much as my memories of 1998 are of Spiceworld played on a loop, One Direction’s cinematic debut is proof that Cineworld’s first priority is commercial success. And that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Thousands of people will see and (inexplicably) love This Is Us and, more pertinently, it is the Cineworld’s ticket sales that are bankrolling the Picturehouse’s Q&A with Josie Long and screening of Edward Scissorhands in Childerley Hall’s ‘magnificent gardens’.

We cannot allow commercial viability to become the only concern in cinema. If it does, we will be left with a lightly-scented pot-pourri of skyscraper-budgeted mediocrity; as no risks will be taken, no foreign language films by fantastic foreign directors will make it to the UK, and there will be no fostering of new directorial talent. Based on its budget of $1.2million and its box office takings of a measly $2.8million – a relative commercial failure even for the 90’s – Reservoir Dogs would never have stood a snowball’s chance in hell at the Cineworld, and a then little-known director called Tarantino would have remained the best kept secret of the Cannes coterie.

Sign the petition to save the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse – it’s here that great cinema is born.