Before the rise of the multiplex in the early 1980s, many suburbs had their own cinemas, and they were more than places to catch a movie: they were social centres and community hubs. Today, the number of independently owned community cinemas in Sydney can be counted on one hand, and arguably the best example of what they used to be like is the Roseville Theatre, home of the Roseville Cinemas.
A quaint landmark on the side of the Pacific Highway, the Roseville is a twin arthouse cinema servicing the denizens of Roseville village and its surrounds. Built at the start of the 20th century by Kuring-gai Council as a town hall, the building was originally for dances and ceremonies. In the cinema office, a sombre reminder of its original purpose is a poster reproduction urging locals to attend a ‘war meeting’ on September 23, 1915 – a recruitment drive for Australian soldiers was held here. In 1936 it was sold by the council and renovated into an Art Deco-style cinema to become Traynor Picture Palace.
In 1974, the cinema was taken over by a Netherlandish immigrant, Hans van Pinxteren, and it has remained in the family ever since. The son of a cinema owner, Van Pinxteren worked for Paramount and Universal in Australia as a film promoter before acquiring the Roseville Cinemas. The current owner/director, Emma Addario (née van Pinxteren), well recalls the lavish premiere events her father used to stage. “He would close the Pacific Highway – back then you could get permission to close a lane of the Pacific Highway! – and have the big movie searchlights,” she recalls. “For The Last Emperor (1987) he had one of those dragon race boats out the front.” For the premiere of Amadeus (1984), a film that ran for a year at the cinema, staff dressed up in baroque wigs and ruffles.
Hans, who died in 1989, was a keen vocalist and would hold community sing-a-longs before screenings. “He had [lyrics] slides made up. So if we screened, say, Gallipoli, he would have had a song that was relevant to WWI. He would sing, and he’d have an organist play.” The organ still sits to the side of the stage of Cinema One, although it’s seldom used these days.
The late Sue van Pinxteren and her daughters twinned the cinema in 1995, upgrading the seating and restoring several of the Art Deco features. They also added crying rooms to both cinemas – this is the rare cinema where parents with noisy infants can attend each and every screening. The cinema converted to digital in 2011.
Addario says the locals actively hunger for Australian movies. “Strictly Ballroom ran for a year here, and Baz Luhrmann came and gave us a signed and framed poster to congratulate us. Ladies in Black ran right up until it was released for streaming... It’s always been arthouse and the top end of good films that are still mainstream. That’s just the way the demographics have always been here.”