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Reconnecting film with the community: How ‘A Small Cinema’ found home in Moston Miners Centre

By Phil Jones

When you think of the cinema, most people will think of a modern multiplex, enormous buckets of Coke, extortionate prices, sterile atmosphere and the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, A Small Cinema is a project set up by 31-year-old Sam Meech that intends to question why cinemas cannot be small, community related projects.

And their latest development, Moston’s Miners Community Arts and Music Centre, is their most ambitious to date, providing a permanent community cinema.

“My idea of what a cinema is, was changed by visiting a very small screening space in Berlin and as a result I set up the Small Cinema project a few years ago,” said Sam.

“Since then I’ve been setting up temporary events in shop spaces and community places but this [Moston] was the first attempt to make a permanent screening space.”

Since opening in October the cinema has hosted a 10-day festival, workshops, fundraisers and screenings of independent films.

MM went along to see Icelandic band Sigur Ros’ Valtari Film Experiment (in-line link: http://mancunianmatters.co.uk/content/11127307-review-sigur-r%C3%B3s%E2%80%99-valtari-film-experiment-programme-moston-miners-community-arts-an), and spoke to those responsible for creating the 70-seat cinema.

Built in a former wash-house and social club, the Miners centre began as a project over two years ago, with father and son team Joe and Lou Beckett developing the space.

From a run-down, decrepit old building they restored power, water and heating to parts of the complex to open a café, gallery and function room.

The idea for a cinema came about thanks to Kerenza McClarnan’s Buddleia arts commissioning agency in North Manchester.

Kerenza commissioned Sam to set up a Small Cinema in the area, and after initial investigations in Cheetham failed to bear fruit, they found the Becketts and their Miners centre.

“I felt like something that Sam had done previously would work really well in an area that hadn’t had much artist engagement,” said Kerenza.

“When we came across this place where Lou and Joe had taken over a neglected building, we figured it would work really well here.

“The room where the cinema is now was completely derelict, it was full of mud, the transformation to what it is now is massive.”

The cinema was built in 12 weeks with the help of many volunteers and donations from local businesses.

Seating was provided by the Liverpool Plaza cinema, who were throwing out their seats, other donations included a slush-puppy machine and £2000 of roller-shutters.

“We were slightly more ambitious, and with help from an amazing group of volunteers and professional building experience from John Marley, we ended with a fabulous permanent space,” added Kerenza.

“All the materials, all the paint, bits of timber, fire doors, it was all donated, so it was an incredible experience of getting this thing built.”

Sam was appointed as artist in residence initially, but now the project is completed he aims to take a step back and let the newly-formed committee take charge.

“Very quickly we had requests for using the space in different ways, some film screenings of local productions and from theatre groups wanting to rehearse here,” said the filmmaker.

“But now I’m just here to facilitate other people programming it, I’m moving back and it’s all about the volunteers and the community people wanting to use the space.”

Volunteer Paul Murphy played a large part in the cinema’s creation and needed no encouragement to wax-lyrical about the project when manning the door for the Sigur Ros screening.

“I don’t know if it’s just because I’m so close to the project, but I think it’s fantastic,” said the 42-year-old.

“We’re here now and we’re not going anywhere so we’re finding ways to use the space.”

Just a stone’s throw from the cinema is the proposed development site for FC United’s new stadium, and Paul hopes to make the most of potential investment in the area.

“With the proposed stadium I’d love to set up a Saturday matinee for kids, so their parents can drop them off and go watch the football,” he added.

“But it’s the little things that you forget, we’re going through CRB checks so people can trust that it’s a safe environment.”

A Small Cinema’s links with FC United run deeper than a shared location though, the project was publicised through their network of fans, and Sam even made a documentary about the club with John O’Shea.

Paul is keen to make the most of the cinema, which boasts a Blu-Ray player, HD projector and 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound – all of which were donated – and has some novel ideas for the space.

“Because of the projector we’ve got, people could even just rent the space for the afternoon to plug in an X-Box and do some gaming, we want this to be a real multi-purpose community facility,” said Paul.

The experience of watching two-hours of short films, sound-tracked by Sigur Ros’ album Valtari, in a 70-seat, community funded and run cinema, with friendly volunteers handing out free brandy hot chocolate, was one I can thoroughly recommend.

You may have been able to see your own breath, but with heating solutions in the pipeline and a devoted band of helpers, Moston’s Small Cinema will surely go from strength to strength.

To learn more about Moston’s Small Cinema, click here: http://www.asmallcinema.co.uk/

Follow A Small Cinema on Twitter: http://twitter.com/asmallcinema

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