People Power IV: Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign

So MP Gavin Barwell’s employee, Croydon Councillor Sara Bashford, has set herself up against Ronnie Corbett and Lord Fellowes over the future of Croydon’s art house cinema.

Adrian Winchester leading the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign meeting at the Green Dragon pub

Around 100 devotees of the David Lean Cinema turned up for a public meeting just over a week ago, and the over-riding sense of that meeting was that being fobbed off with an inferior programme of unsuitable blockbusters in some half-arsed re-branding exercise at the Fairfield Halls would not appeal to them.

The Save the David Lean Campaign, chaired by Adrian Winchester, is now planning to protest and lobby at the council meeting on July 18, and continues to encourage those dissatsified with the council’s conduct – what Tory peer Julian Fellowes has described as “a meaningless cut” – to sign the online petition.

One thing is already clear from the sparse programme so far published by the Fairfield Halls: the council has no idea of what the David Lean Cinema was about.

The David Lean Cinema was an intimate venue for 60 people at a screening. The Bashford-backed Fairfield Halls re-branding is frankly laughable, as it aims to hold screenings in the 1,500-seater main hall. “This emphasises that their new ‘cinema’ is just a means of filling some empty slots in the Fairfield Halls exisiting programme,” Winchester said.

Bashford suggests that the reason that the DLC was closed was that it “is not a core service”. This comes from the very same councillor who oversaw a £1.5 million grant recently to another non-core service, the privately owned and run Fairfield Halls.

And what of the programme of movies on offer at the Fairfields under the stolen branding of the David Lean Cinema?

The attempted “art house” cinema programme in what likes to call itself “south London’s premier arts venue” (presumably when it is not playing host to packed Chubby Brown gigs) opened on Saturday with a showing of the Russell Brand re-make of Arthur. Hardly what you might call cutting edge.

“This is a real insult to film lovers who came to the David Lean week in week out in all weathers to see the best in art house cinema, new releases and classic films,” one leading light in the Save the David Lean Campaign told Inside Croydon.

“Now while it is fair to say Russell Brand’s Arthur, or Hangover 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2 may not have been round enough years to fully stand the test of time, at the moment anyone who would’ve wanted to see them probably went to Vue when they were released.

“I can’t for the life of me work out what audience this is aimed at,” said our cinema expert.

Russell Brand in Arthur: an insult to the memory of the David Lean Cinema

And apparently, nor can the people of Croydon. When we checked on Friday, the Fairfield Halls had sold just two cinema tickets for its Saturday afternoon matinee showing of Arthur.

For all of Bashford’s bluster about her “replacement” David Lean, the hurriedly cobbled together programme consists of just 17 screenings in July and August. Winchester said, “A key strength of the DLC was obviously the discerning audience filling it on weekday afternoons. Only two screenings are on weekday afternoons and one of those is a Pirates of the Caribbean film. The DLC’s ‘core audience’ doesn’t appear to have been considered.

“The big surprise for me is I’ve looked up several screenings and all are in the Concert Hall. Everyone thought the Ashcroft Theatre was bad enough in terms of lacking the DLC’s ambiance, but sitting among about 1,500 empty seats really makes it a joke,” Winchester said.

“Unless the Fairfield have invested in an extremely expensive digital projector that could cope with a very long throw and very big screen, the poor picture quality may well put off any customers from returning. I saw two or three films there when they occasionally used it for films and the 35mm projection there was annoyingly dim – possibly the worst in this respect I’ve ever seen in a UK cinema.”

Winchester and his working group have already explored several alternative ways of re-opening and running the DLC in its Clocktower home – the principal aim of the campaign group. They point to the council’s own public consultation on its arts spending, where closing the DLC was the least favoured option for the biggest number of respondents.

The campaigners, and some of the council’s former staff, are particularly annoyed that Bashford and the council did nothing to explore other options for keeping the venue open – such as renting it out to a private company or letting a charitable trust run it.

“Our campaign wants highlight the way the council has let down the people of Croydon by handing the issue so badly,” Winchester said.

“We also have a pragmatic sense that a complete U-turn by the council is virtually impossible. We think that pressure on the council may help to gain co-operation regarding an approach such as making the cinema a registered charity.

“This route seemed very effective at the place in Sevenoaks that I visited with a committee member, when we met the chief executive and a local councillor who are involved. They felt that in around two months, the Localism Bill will make it very difficult for the council to be obstructive.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to People Power IV: Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign

  1. I can understand the need for The Council to get more people through the door to increase revenues on the DLC Project, but how on earth was it supposed to compete with VUE when you have a purpose built VUE just over the way? With much more modern equipment by the sounds of it.

    The edge DLC had was its small ambience. Like small music venues it had an intimacy that many loved. That is something VUE does not have, due to the ‘screaming kids’ factor for example.

    I thought moving it to The Fairfield Halls might work, but I genuinely expected a small art-house set-up to be made in The Halls. Clearly this has not happened.

    I’m sorry to say this but the lack of skill in these decisions has been truly shocking. Whoever did this had little to no understanding of small arts/ gig venues, and the kind of love they generate from punters.

    DLC could have moved into Sing-along-a-cinema territory for example. Rocky Horror, The Sound of Music, Little Shop of Horrors, and many other films could have been rolled out in regular ‘parties’ to generate more income. Running alongside the traditional well used art-house stuff. A simple adjustment, and it would have been a revenue winner. Other projects could have also been done. Like showing Arthur in a small intimate venue for example.

    Did these people even bother to research? DLC cannot take on VUE. It survived for so long as it was NOT VUE. It was different enough to not get run out of town.

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