FORTY YEARS OF CINEMA PARADISO
Founder Roger Gibson charts the cinema’s remarkable progress through the decades.
‘These were wild, primitive and exciting times as we introduced weekend all night programmes.’
When the last remaining Cinema in Chichester, the Granada, closed in 1979, Dr Gorrie, Principal of Chichester College of Technology, asked me if we could consider opening a Film society at the College. Being a College lecturer in Film, Art and History of Art (one of my best A level film students Ninian is now the film oracle at New Park Box Office) and having run courses in The Art of Film since 1969 under the auspices of the W.E.A and Southampton University, a film culture already existed, so I started our first programme of the Chichester Adult Education Film Society on 20th September 1979 with Woody Allen’s Love & Death. This will be repeated for our Ruby Anniversary Centre piece on Friday 20 September with a party.
The College Film Society screened on 16 mm in the large College Hall offering 40 films a year for only £10 and 300 members enrolled. Looking back, immodestly, I am impressed with some of the imaginative double bills I programmed and personally introduced: Metropolis + Things to Come; Rocky Horror Show + Eraserhead: Dance with a Stranger +Yield to the Night. The quality of the programming was recognised when we received several Film Society Awards during the early eighties.
Whilst continuing with the annual College programmes (increased to twice weekly) at the renamed Chichester City Film Society. I dipped my toes into using the New Park Community Centre, starting a Junior Film Club for 7 to 15year olds on Saturday mornings, with the help of my 15-year-old neighbour Ross Bevan. Originally part of the Club, he became an apprentice projectionist. These were wild, primitive and exciting times as we introduced weekend all night programmes including Woodstock; All night Horror, Sci-fi and Mad Max with two 16mm projectors perched on a rickety table using a makeshift sheet. With sold-out audiences of mainly youngsters spilling over to sitting on the floor this probably broke all safety regulations! Refreshments were provided by my family throughout.
In 1986 the College society moved permanently into New Park, firstly for three days a week, then the full Monty of seven days and nights. We installed 35 mm in 1987, a very stressful time managing various second-hand equipment, but Ross Bevan, by now a very experienced projectionist coped. With this training he has gone on to be a chief advisor for Imax worldwide! We slowly changed the “film club” image and rebranded, our third name changed to Chichester Cinema at New Park. Eventually we were able to appoint our first general manager, Ellen Cheshire, which helped me considerably. Together with our stalwart Walter Francisco joining us in 2013, the cinema was supported by a terrific team of professionals and enthusiastic volunteers as well as seven chairpersons in succession. Various committees and trustees survived and supported my ambitious plans. I remember the advice given to me by the late chairman Jonathan Ingram, who told me “You are there to spend money-I am there to try to stop you!”
In 1986/87 115 films were shown over 103 days with admissions of 10,660. By 2001/2 344 films over 336 days with 69,000 admissions had been achieved. In 1992 the first modest Chichester Film Festival was mounted featuring 33 new films. We survived the ten screen Multiplex, introduced open air screenings, installed new ramped seating twice and had various upgrades of state-of-the-art equipment, including digital which has allowed the relaying of the very popular live satellite Performance events: opera, ballet, theatre and finally the Metropolitan.
Over the years distinguished visitors from the film world have included Alec Guinness, Ken Russell, Kathleen Turner, Philip French, John Lithgow, Ralph Fiennes, Steve Coogan to name but a few.
To celebrate our Ruby Anniversary and the many achievements of the past 40 years I have selected some highlights to be presented on alternative Ruby Tuesdays scheduling films that illustrate these milestones, which are listed elsewhere. It is said that the passing of a person is the losing of a library. In the meantime, with my ever-supportive wife Jo, I look forward to sharing this ‘library’ with you over 2019, with this magazine and associated events.