South London has had serious cinema credentials for a while now as home to both the BFI and the IMAX in Waterloo, which boasts Britain’s biggest screen. But venture even further south and you’ll be rewarded with unique and historical venues and a real sense of community brought together by a shared passion - cinema. Here’s five reasons cinephiles ought to head south, pronto:
1. Possibly the cheapest cinema in London
Less than a fiver for a film - that’s almost unheard of, right? Well not at the PeckhamPlex where this cheap as chips price is a reality. Films cost just £4.99 or £5.99 for 3D. Showing the latest blockbusters as well as a range of art-house and independents, it's also played host to premieres and screenings of films by local filmmakers.
2. Free film festivals
There’s a whole website dedicated to Free Film Festivals, with the aim to create 'community-run film festivals in...small geographical areas or neighbourhoods'. Six of the nine festivals currently listed on the site are in south London, with the inaugural Streatham Film Festival being the latest addition and including events such as a screening of 'Amy' in a jazz club and a film-themed music night in a local record store. Other festivals take place across Peckham and Nunhead, New Cross and Deptford, Herne Hill and Camberwell, with South Norwood and Thornton Heath being the next up and starting on October 9. Festivals can encompass a whole range of film-related events including screenings in unusual settings, film-making opportunities, quizzes, music nights, discussions and more.
3. Cinema history
A fascinating collection of artefacts on all things cinema - including over a million photographic images - awaits at this former Workhouse in Lambeth. Co-founder of Kennington's Cinema Museum is Ronald Grant, a former projectionist with a life-long passion for cinema-going who is still involved today. The museum was established in 1986 and today hosts events, film screenings and is available for pre-booked guided tours. Screenings cost £8.50 in advance with the chance to explore the museum for an hour prior to start time.
4. Small and unique venues
As well as being home to several of the popular Picturehouse venues and the aforementioned BFI and IMAX, south London has a whole host of alternative and unique cinemas that are well worth a visit. The fantastic Whirled Cinema is tucked beneath railway arches in Loughborough Junction and shows a variety of art-house and world cinema, sans adverts. There’s a small bar and pizzas can be ordered from the takeaway next door. Then there’s the Olympic Studios in Barnes, which used to be a recording studio, hosting sessions from the Rolling Stones no less. This is the cinema to go to if comfort is key, as there's plenty of leg room and drinks can be taken in from the adjoining bar.
For a more intimate setting there’s Back Room Cinema, which as the name suggests occupies a back room in the Montpelier Pub in Peckham. Seating up to 30 people, the cinema is committed to bringing the best in independent cinema to the community, at a low cost, with screenings priced at just £3.95. Smaller still is Under Milkwood, a 20-seater beneath Herne Hill’s popular bar and restaurant of the same name. Membership costs £5 a month which entitles the member plus guest to as many screenings as they want within that period. They show a mixture of classic and modern films.
5. Community spirit
With all this enthusiasm for cinema in south London, there is one borough which is feeling neglected, namely Lewisham which currently has no cinema. The local residents are doing something about it though, with community interest company Deptford Cinema working to build a 40-seater venue. In Crystal Palace there is a similar community project with locals wanting to re-open the former cinema at 25 Church Road, and opposing an application for change of use to the building. Time will tell on this one, but fingers crossed Crystal Palace will get their wish.
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