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Andy Parsons

Londoners on their favourite cinemas

We talk to fans of London’s cinemas about what makes them so special

By Alexandra Sims and Dominique Sisley

Love your local cinema? You’re not the only one. From the volunteer-run Deptford Cinema to one of the city’s oldest cinemas, The Phoenix, we spoke to long-term staff and diehard regulars to find out what sets London’s most loved cinemas apart.

RECOMMENDED: London’s best cinemas

Andy Parsons

‘We make space for films you don’t really get to see anymore’

Cinemas Independent Leicester Square

Ariane, front-of-house staff and co-host of the cinema’s podcast at the Prince Charles Cinema

‘I first went to The Prince Charles to see “The Room” with a friend. I loved it so much I got a membership. The next thing I saw was “Headshot”, which is an Indonesian film. I’m Indonesian and I thought it was awesome, so I handed in my CV and got a job in 2017. I work front-of-house, run events and the cinema’s podcast, “The Pod Charles Cinecast”. I host a lot of singalongs – we recently did Lonely Island’s “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”. It’s awesome because you may think: I’m probably the only person that likes this film, but then you learn that lots of people really care and will show up. Our crowds can be quite rowdy, but the rowdiness comes from enthusiasm, which is why it’s so awesome. We’re in the heart of Leicester Square, so lots of bizarre things always happen. I was asked in my interview whether or not I could clear up sick! We have the best staff in the world and we all love our jobs. If we’re on shift we’ll draw straws to see who gets to usher the film we want to see. It’s a testament to our programming that we make space for films you don’t really get to see anymore, and we make cinema accessible – where else in 2019 can you see a film for £1? There’s a charm about The Prince Charles. It’s a safe space where people can share experiences and celebrate cinema.’

Ariane’s tip ‘Get a membership – you get loads of discounts, like £1 tickets and a pound off drinks at the bar. Turning your beer from £4.50 to £3.50 is a dream come true in Leicester Square!’

Andy Parsons

‘It was amazing to restore the cinema’

Cinemas Homerton

Dee, co-founder of the Castle Cinema

‘Asher [partner and co-founder] and I stumbled upon the Castle. It used to be a cinema, so the old proscenium arch was still there. It was amazing to have the chance to restore it. Doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds was a rollercoaster, but at the same time it was so great to have a community of people involved from the very beginning. It was tough going at the start, [because] it was just the two of us working all day, every day. It used to be a snooker hall, so there were loads of leftover cues there – we spent ages clearing it out. Finding the old hotel chairs for the space was really lucky. They’re so comfy, it’s almost like being in your living room. We screen a bit of everything and we do our programming quite last minute so we can react to reviews. We’re truly independent so we’ve got a lot of freedom to listen to our audience and play what they’d like to see.’

Dee’s tip ‘Visit our 16mm reel night run by Liam and Umit, who own a shop in Lower Clapton full of old film and projectors. It always sells out.’


‘People say the Curzon Soho is like their second home’

Cinemas Independent Shaftesbury Avenue

Stevie, regular at Curzon Soho

‘My first trip to the Curzon Soho was about eight or nine years ago. Before that, I always used to go to the Prince Charles or the cinemas in Leicester Square. I used to think the Curzon was intimidating – I didn’t know if I was allowed in there because it seemed posher than the others. Eventually, I decided to check it out, and I found it to be incredibly friendly. I typically go every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This year so far I’ve seen around 50 films there – including “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which I’ve watched seven times. You see celebrities there too – they do Q&As all the time and go to watch films themselves, so you can meet them after and chat. I met [director] Ben Wheatley after a recent Q&A for “Free Fire” and he was really happy to chat to me as a genuine film fan. It’s also so relaxed: a lot of people say it’s like their second home. You can relax there and everyone knows your name. Everyone is welcome.’

Stevie’s tip ‘It can be busy at night. The best time to go is Friday lunchtime or Saturday morning. It’s quiet, but it still has atmosphere.’

‘Danny Boyle really likes to buy pick ’n’ mix’

Cinemas Independent Stepney

Amiru, floor manager at Genesis Cinema

‘I’ve worked at the Genesis for nearly a decade – next February will be my tenth anniversary on staff. I got a job here while I was at university, but I used to come a lot as a kid. The first film I saw here was “The Grinch” – I went all out: pick ’n’ mix, ice cream, and a box of popcorn the size of my head. Now I don’t have much time to watch films while I’m at work, so I come in on my days off and pack them all in one after the other. I’m all about action and comedy: I remember one day, when “The Expendables” came out, I watched it three times in a row. It’s one of the perks of my job. The Genesis is unique – other cinemas in London are more corporate, but we are independent. We cater for all kinds of audiences and have loads of regulars, including Danny Boyle, who has come in a few times – he really likes to buy pick ’n’ mix. I love it: it’s such a blast.’

Amiru’s tip ‘Monday to Wednesdays are our cheap days. We offer seats for £5.50. Not many cinemas can say that, can they?’

Andy Parsons

‘I’ve found a community at Ciné Lumière’

Cinemas Independent South Kensington

Estelle, regular at Ciné Lumière

‘I moved to London from France six years ago, and Ciné Lumière was the first cinema I went to. I was alone, I didn’t know the city and I just wanted to see a French film as I was a little homesick. I ended up finding a community there, and not just one made up of other French people: I’ve met loads of friends from Britain and all over the world too. I live in Dalston now, but I try to go to Ciné Lumière at least once a month. It is the only cinema I’d cross town for. The programme is really relevant socially – especially in London, where I think it’s a strange time to be a foreigner. Everyone is thinking, with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, about what it means to be European. In some ways, films are a way to stage unheard voices, which can resonate on a personal level and on a larger social level. Checking out the Ciné Lumière  programme is a way for me to build my awareness and understanding of the world, and then see how I can share it.’

Estelle’s tip ‘They’ve just opened a 35-seat boutique room which screens more radical films.’

‘Whatever people want to show, they can’

Cinemas Deptford

Pedro, volunteer at Deptford Cinema

‘Deptford Cinema is a community space run entirely by volunteers. It’s not-for-profit, so we do everything ourselves. I’ve been working here for nine months – I do front-of-house, programming, finances, DIY work, a little bit of everything. The first time I volunteered here I felt a real sense of family. I remember we were showing the Japanese film “Shoplifters”, and I was helping on the bar. It was fantastic. It made me want to be involved, and help put on movies that could create that same atmosphere. Whoever wants to work on the programme can: there are no restrictions. We welcome everybody because that’s how we get such a diverse range of films on our line-up. For example, the next two screenings I’m helping to programme are a “John Wick” night and a collaboration with a queer Portuguese film festival. Whatever people want to show, they can.’

Pedro’s tip ‘Come to our meetings on Sundays at 11am to get an idea of the seasons we have coming up.’


‘I get a kick out of putting a film on the screen’

Cinemas Independent London

Paul, former projectionist at the Phoenix Cinema

‘I worked as a projectionist for the Phoenix. I went to help them out for a few weeks in June 1979 and ended up staying for 35 years. I discovered the cinema because I was a film buff, and it was one of the only places that showed films that were old and good. I first went there because they were running the Marx Brothers film “A Night at the Opera”. I took my girlfriend at the time, and she dumped me soon afterwards. I learnt that you don’t take girlfriends to see Marx Brothers movies. I eventually got a part-time job at the cinema as a projectionist, a skill I learnt when I was younger. After a while, it became my responsibility to look after the 35mm equipment. I’m a film presentation enthusiast: I just get a great kick out of putting a film on the screen. These days, I’m semi-retired from the Phoenix. I’ve come off projection, and have now moved over to education work. Now I teach children about projection, and how we put the pictures on the big screen. You can’t catch them out, they’re a smart lot.’ 

Paul’s tip ‘It’s worth coming to one of our 35mm screenings. It’s film as film should be seen.’


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