Bidders for David Lean Cinema deterred by council delays


Locked and chained: the David Lean Cinema closure could end up costing the borough money, rather than making any savings

Locked and chained: the David Lean Cinema closure could end up costing the borough money, rather than making any savings

– that’s the amount of money Croydon Council will have to spend to “re-calibrate” the borough’s own digital cinema projector, after Town Hall staff were ordered to move the £20,000 piece of kit from the council-owned David Lean Cinema in the Clocktower, closed under orders of Councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford in April 2011, and move it needlessly to the Fairfield Halls.

The Save the David Lean Campaign has been kept waiting for a year since Bashford and the Conservative-run council promised to reconsider its decision to close the venue and hire out the David Lean Cinema for screenings or hand over the venue to a community-run trust. The delay may have caused at least one bidder to lose interest in the proposition.

The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaigners have managed to hold weekly screenings of art house films in a central Croydon pub, attracting growing audiences which would more than fill the purpose-build venue. But they remain locked out of the proper cinema, a decision which an opposition councillor has described as “completely bonkers”.

One reason given a year ago for not re-opening the David Lean Cinema was because the council had “mislaid” the £20,000 projector, after its futile removal to the Fairfield Halls. But now located, it seems that the needless moving of the projector leaves it needing to require some expert re-tuning to make it work properly again. All at an estimated cost of £5,000.

The council’s “bright idea” of transferring the David Lean Cinema brand to the Fairfield Halls has been an abject failure – in the whole of next month, there are just two cinema screenings planned, of the Oscar-winning Stephen Spielberg film, Lincoln.

Some “David Lean”-badged screenings at the Fairfield Halls have been watched by fewer than a dozen paying punters in the 1,600-seater main auditorium. The council’s transfer of the digital projector to the Halls was utterly misconceived: this specialist piece of kit would never work at the far larger Fairfield Halls.

The chairman of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign, Adrian Winchester, says that Croydon Council’s delays and failure to deliver on its promised talks has managed to frustrate two commercial organisations that were interested in taking on the running of the cinema in the Clocktower.

According to sources, one of the organisations that, more than a year ago, expressed an interest in re-opening the arthouse cinema in the Clocktower was the Curzon group, which operates a chain of cinemas around London.

Labour arts spokesman Timothy Godfrey: council's attitude on Clocktower has been "bonkers"

Labour arts spokesman Timothy Godfrey: council’s attitude on Clocktower has been “bonkers”

Nearly two years after the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign was formed, in response to reports on Inside Croydon about the disappointment and disgust over the decision demonstrated by national treasure Ronnie Corbett and Downton Abbey writer Lord Fellowes, the passive approach towards Croydon Council by the campaign’s leadership is being questioned.

Even Winchester’s patience with the council is being tested. He said, “Considering that as far back as April last year, Councillor Sara Bashford stated that she anticipated that there would be progress concerning a Clocktower-related Community Asset Transfer ‘quite soon’, we understandably feel that an announcement is long overdue.”

Winchester describes the council’s failure to progress the re-opening of the cinema as a “disappointing lack of progress”.

He said, “It’s a fact that at least two credible interested parties are eager to put forward plans the would include the David Lean being reopened, so at a time when Croydon residents are so in need of good news, it is bewildering that such opportunities are not being welcomed with open arms.”

The David Lean Cinema, at the time of its closure, was operating within budget, and by attracting regular customers to the Clocktower would have contributed to the venue’s income through bar receipts and other activities, including visits to the Croydon Gallery and Museum, other public facilities that have also been marginalised by the present administration.

To compound the short-sightedness of the closures, what was intended to cut the council’s spending have ended up costing Council Tax-payers even more money. As well as incurring bills of thousands of pounds for the avoidable re-calibration of the projector, Croydon continues to pay contractors to keep the under-used Clocktower buildings “secure”.

Timothy Godfrey, the Labour spokesman on arts and culture in the borough, believes that even if there is not enough funds for the council to run these local amenities, ways ought to be found to allow community groups, such as the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign, to keep them open.

Godfrey said, “They’ve wasted the past 18 months, mothballing the building and paying contractors fees in order to keep the place empty.

“Doors have been locked and chained up and no one allowed in there. It’s just completely bonkers.”

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3 Responses to Bidders for David Lean Cinema deterred by council delays

  1. catswiskas says:

    I’m definitely not promoting the David Lean brand in Fairfield but, to be fair, I saw ‘Skyfall’ there last week and the audience was 700+. Acoustics weren’t the best but it was still a good deal for £5.

    • You underline the point about the inappropriateness of the Fairfield: Skyfall is probably not the sort of material you’d expect for a typical DLC “arthouse” presentation.

      Wonder what the management at Grants and the borough’s other commercial multiplex businesses think, in these difficult commercial times, of having their prices under-cut so significantly by a council-subsidised “charity” when it offers blockbuster movies with sub-standard sound quality?

      • adrianwin says:

        The misguided move of the projector to the Fairfield has probably contributed to the cost of getting it back in action again, but that wasn’t the only factor. The projector has been used for five years, so is about half way through its expected lifespan, and the Campaign’s technical consultant (a former DLC projectionist) has pointed out that a security upgrade would have been necessary last year, and this plus general maintenance (that the Council rarely undertook unless something completely broke down) would have contributed thousands to the bill. Distributors are driving the digital revolution as they save large sums on 35mm prints, but digital projection is a very expensive business – in fact £20,000 is only a fraction of what the projector was worth when new.

        Regarding the above comment from catswiskas, it’s not inappropriate for the Fairfield to screen ‘Skyfall’ in addition to more characteristic DLC films; I used to see all the Bond films at the David Lean and appreciated the quiet audience that wasn’t munching popcorn, etc! I don’t think such a screening represents competition for Grants as it was months after the cinema release and just before the film was released on DVD. The sound was OK – not perfect modern cinema sound – but similar to what was heard in the old single screen cinemas.

        The Concert Hall obviously has nothing in common with the DLC but it would be highly contentious if the Campaign backed any proposal to establish a smaller arts cinema elsewhere within the Fairfield, as supporters appear solidly behind the objective of reopening the existing venue.

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