A celebration of the escapist power of the pictures.
Broadway Cinema is back. My favourite cinema reopened its doors on September 25th. I went on opening night to a screening of ‘Rocks’ (2020) - the brilliant new film from Sarah Gavron. It was followed by a Q n’ A with Director Gavron and Nottingham-born star Shaneigha Monik-Greyson. I was standing behind them in the queue for the mini-bar. That’s my little claim to fame anyway!
The cinema is virtually unrecognisable and, no matter how good the social distancing measures were (fantastic all-around!), it’s sad to see the physical impact this Covid-19 Pandemic has had on Nottingham’s No.1 arts and culture hub. There’s no foyer anymore. You have to either go straight up the stairs or down the stairs depending which screen you’re in. And exit round the back to avoid crossing paths with incoming customers.
You can’t grab a drink and sit down in the Cafe Bar with a copy of LeftLion. The Cafe Bar and Mezzanine Bar remain closed for refurbishment; due to reopen in December.
Not quite a return to normal then. But the big news is that the BFI London Film Festival took place between October 7th and October 18th and Broadway Cinema was screening films live from the festival; accompanied by live Q n’ As with the film-makers and stars. Preceding the screenings, we were graced with the video presence of some of the biggest and best names in British Film. Steve McQueen, Riz Ahmed and David Byrne were just some of the famous faces lighting up the cinema’s colossal Screen 1; talking about their films and pontificating about the challenges of releasing them in this uniquely challenging year.
Broadway have always prided themselves on being one of the best cinemas in the country. It was actually rated, in 2009, by Total Film as one of the best in the world. In 1993, Broadway hosted the UK premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994); screening it shortly after its debut at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. And, consequence of Laraine Porter (co-founder and director of the British Silent Film Festival) being director of the Broadway Media Centre from 1998 to 2008, the cinema hosted a series of silent film festivals in conjunction with the BFI.
Just last year, Broadway was the set of a Q n’ A with supreme satirist and film-maker Chris Morris; talking about his then new film ‘The Day Shall Come’ (2019). Suffice to say, the fact that Broadway were screening films from the UK’s biggest film festival was a sign of a partial return to normalcy. Even if that new normalcy takes an online form as will increasingly be the case for the film industry in the coming years.
I didn’t see all the films that were being screened. I missed Pixar’s ‘Soul’ (2020) which I am now told will skip cinemas and go straight to Disney Plus. What must surely be another blow to the future of the theatrical experience.
I did, however, attend the Broadway practically every day for the past two weeks. Certainly for the latter halves of the weeks as the cinema is now only open from Wednesdays-Sundays (blame Covid!). I’m probably their most regular customer. Possibly there more than many of the staff.
I have to say I’ve seen a terrific range of movies as part of this year’s LFF. Some better than others. My two standouts were Steve McQueen’s ‘Mangrove’ (2020) and Spike Lee’s ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’ (2020). But all the films, in their own ways, stressed the importance of the big screen experience as a collective whole.
As emphasised by lovecinema.com’s eye-popping advert (playing in all cinemas since they re-opened), “cinema is back” and “great stories need a big screen”. There was certainly an attitude in all the interviews towards preserving the art of watching a movie in the cinema. A medium which is currently under threat from implosion in the post-Covid world of streaming, download and home viewing services.
I especially liked Riz Ahmed’s little bit before a screening of ‘Mogul Mowgli’ (2020) where he talked about his new film being essentially a “Covid film”. In ‘Mogul Mowgli’, Ahmed plays a British Asian rapper who finds his career in jeopardy after a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. His character endures prolonged periods of isolation. Something millions will have related to during lockdown.
If this London Film Festival did anything at all, it was celebrate the escapist power of the pictures. All the films revelled in the big screen’s ability to transport viewers to other worlds. And, as someone who’s spent most of the past 7 months watching movies at home, the festival reminded me how much I’d missed the cinema.
Here’s a selection of my LFF highlights...
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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