The chairman of a campaign against Croydon’s arts cuts has issued a statement which suggests that his group has been misled over the whereabouts and use of a piece of council-owned equipment worth tens of thousands of pounds.
When Croydon shut the doors on the David Lean Cinema eight months ago, Sara Bashford, the council cabinet member for Customer Services,
Culture & Sport, claimed that the popular arthouse cinema’s digital projector and its programme of screenings would be transferred to the privately run Fairfield Halls.
The uninspiring and disjointed programme offered in the vast Fairfield concert auditorium has failed to attract audiences of any significant size, sometimes with fewer than 10 paying customers scattered around the 1,600 seats. The latest promotional material for the Fairfield Halls failed to include any mention of cinema performances in December, January and February.
And last month, under the “David Lean” banner, the Fairfield Halls had just three cinema performances – less than 5 per cent of the screenings held at the “real” David Lean Cinema in previous Decembers.
The David Lean Cinema was one of the arts “assets” boasted of by the council in its Croydon City Bid document, even though the flawed document was published months after the venue was closed. “Shutting the cinema was a nail in the coffin of cultural integrity in Croydon,” according to one member of the Save the David Lean campaign committee.
And now it appears that despite repeated public assurances from Bashford that the valuable projector had been transferred for use at the private venue, this is not in fact the case.
The digital projector, bought at Council Tax-payers’ expense, is believed to have cost Croydon as much as £20,000. Yet Croydon Council has turned down recent requests to hire the David Lean Cinema for viewings on the grounds that the projector has been “removed”.
Digital projectors are not only expensive, but highly specialised pieces of kit, configured specifically to the size of screen and auditorium they are to serve. Taking a projector purchased for a 60-seat arthouse venue and thinking it will simply transfer to the Fairfield Halls’ massive concert venue was, at best, naive.
Adrian Winchester, the chairman of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign, has had confirmation of this from Simon Thomsett, the Fairfield Halls’ director who appears to have been lumbered with an unusable projector and an unwanted cinema offering, all as part of the deal to hand £1.5 million of council cash to the Fairfield.
“Simon Thomsett confirmed that the projector is unsuitable for use in the concert hall,” Winchester said.
The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign has organised its own season of screenings of some of the director’s films at the Spread Eagle pub, right next door to the sadly under-used Clock Tower, and also a short walk from the site of the cinema in Surrey Street where Lean is believed to have watched his first movies when a child.
The first screening, In Which We Serve, is tomorrow, Tuesday, January 3 (click here for more details of this and other dates).
The missing projector is just the latest example of how “Book Token” appears to have but the slightest of grasps of her council brief, or cannot be relied upon in what she says.
Despite the David Lean Cinema having operated under budget – and therefore at virtually nil cost to the council – in its final year, and various alternative, commercially viable offers to run the cinema in the Clock Tower, in September Bashford defended her arts cuts by saying: “A cinema is not a ‘must have’. It is nice to have and we have kept a cinema in operation which is what we promised to do.” [Thems our italics, for emphasis]
For his part, when announcing the pub viewings series, Winchester tried to be diplomatic when he said: “Although we appreciate the vital contribution that the Fairfield Halls makes to the arts in Croydon, it naturally places a greater emphasis on live performances than film.
“The claim that the cinema is now ‘situated within the Fairfield Halls’ appears misleading if you contrast the Fairfield’s three film screenings in December with the cinema’s 64 in December 2009.” Winchester added: “The David Lean Cinema certainly hasn’t ‘moved’.”
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