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Happy 25th Birthday Broadway Cinema

31 August 15 words: Ashley Carter
Nottingham's favourite picture house is a quarter of a century old, so we look back at its history all fondly and proud
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Timehop, the smartphone app that allows you to relive your social media past in all its douche-chill-inducing glory recently reminded me of the first Facebook status I posted after moving to Nottingham in 2009. A clearly excited me pronounced, “I’ve found the perfect cinema in Nottingham. It’s showing Herzog and serves Jim Beam. Thank you Jesus.”

Cutting through my nauseating attempt to fill the void left by The Fonz, the sentiment was sincere. Having grown up with nothing but multiplex cinemas, and returning from three years at a university close enough to London to allow fairly regular visits to the expensive, exclusive-feeling arthouse cinemas, finding Broadway felt like a revelation. Coupling the individuality and cultural significance of an arthouse cinema, with the accessibility and inclusive atmosphere of a multiplex, it straddled a perfect middle ground – all with a ubiquitous and sincere love of film that shone through in everything it did.

Broadway’s place as Nottingham’s non-commercial alternative to the multiplex can be traced back further than its 25-year history. Having previously housed the Co-operative Education Centre and City Lights Cinema, from the sixties it was home to the Nottingham Film Society. This select group, headed by the vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham, specialised in screening European arthouse cinema from Italy and France. With support from the BFI, this film society was converted into the Nottingham Film Theatre and relaunched in 1966, with, according to John Lett, a remit to “include films from the silent era, experimental and educational films, musicals, war films and a whole range of Continental films.”

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Its precarious system of financial support saw it struggle, with only the intervention of Player’s cigarettes saving it from closure following the government’s failure to deliver on promised support in the late sixties. This continued through the seventies, where it was kept afloat by a minor increase in cinema attendance – illustrated by its association with the cult cinema movement in the USA, during which a monthly late-night screening was introduced in 1973.

But the eighties and the politics of Thatcher heralded a new era where governmental support was no more, and the Film Theatre found itself having to adapt to survive. With a renewed focus on existing as a business first and foremost, the Nottingham Film Theatre was replaced by a new media centre that, according to a Nottingham Evening Post article from 1988, aimed to “combine entertainment for the general public with production facilities for independent film and video makers and a media training course.”   

Arts and culture were no longer exclusive luxuries, but key in the economic development of eighties Britain. The BBC was subjected to rigorous financial reshaping, and demands from the government on both them and ITV saw that 25% of their programming output should come from independent producers. Whereas the Nottingham Film Theatre was a place for entertainment, Broadway was presented as “a major resource for media training, tourism and job development in the East Midlands.”

As founding Director of Broadway Media Centre, Adrian Wootton was key to shaping the ambition for it to utilise its regional centrality. With Broadway as its flagship, Nottingham was no longer a stepping stone for creative talent on their way to London, but a creative force unto itself. Wootton stated that he wanted “to put Nottingham onto the new media map”, claiming “Broadway’s primary role is to provide a confident focus for that burgeoning media industry.”

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Two and a half decades later, it’s clear to see that Wootton, now Chief Executive of Film London, was perspicacious in his ambitions. In the 25 years since its creation, Broadway has become the undisputed creative hub for the city of Nottingham – home to the most important films and filmmakers to emerge from the city, as well as serving as host to its most important film events and festivals.    

It was at Intermedia, previously housed in the basements of Broadway, that Shane Meadows first established himself with Where’s The Money, Ronnie? ­– the short film that won him £5,000 and led to his meeting with Stephen Wooley. It was also through the now defunct company that Broadway stalwart Chris Cooke made his first feature film, One For The Road, in 2003. The Broadway offices are home to Sound It Out and The Great Hip-Hop Hoax’s Jeanie Finlay, Steven Sheil of Mum & Dad and Dead Mine. As well as to Wellington Films – the producers behind what is arguably Nottingham’s most successful film of the last 25 years, 2006’s London to Brighton, a film The Big Issue described as “The best British film of the century.”

Cooke and Sheil also curate one of the most successful and popular horror festivals in the country at Broadway – Mayhem Film Festival. Now entering its eleventh year, it has played host to a string of iconic screenings over the last decade. Among them, a screening of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now at St Mary’s Church, at which Roeg was in attendance, as well as a masterclass from Monsters director Gareth Edwards.

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As well as Mayhem, Broadway hosted Bang! Short Film Festival for fifteen years, as well as Shots in the Dark – the first festival devoted solely to mystery and thriller films – at which Quentin Tarantino was twice a visitor. Following a meeting with Adrian Wootton at Cannes, he turned up at the 1992 Festival where he talked about, and screened, his new film, Reservoir Dogs. After visiting the festival that year as a guest, he was invited back the following year as an honorary patron, where he spent several days in and around the festival before Broadway hosted the UK premiere of Pulp Fiction. “People ask me ‘Why are you coming here?’” Tarantino said at the time in an interview with the Nottingham Evening Post. “I come here because I really like the festival. I like the city. I think that Nottingham is a really cool city. Coming here and seeing the different movies and hanging out with all the people here who I have got to know a little bit, it's fun and I get a big kick out of it.”

Gala screenings of Anton Corbijn’s Control and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson (which included a Q&A with the director, hosted by Chris Cooke), both films that were largely shot in Nottingham, also helped add to Broadway’s ever-growing reputation as one of the leading cinemas in the country. A sentiment Total Film magazine took further in a 2009 issue, where Broadway found itself named as one of the ten Best Cinemas in the World, alongside La Pagode in Paris and Mann’s Chinese Theatre in LA.

In 2006, helped with funds from the National Lottery and the Arts Council, Broadway went through a redevelopment project costing a reported £6m. An additional two screens were added, taking the total to four, one of which became the first, and only, screen in the world designed by Nottingham designer Paul Smith.

The key to Broadway’s success is its ability to remain both inclusive and accessible. The price of an adult ticket is cheaper than the equivalent at Cineworld, and the prices of its food, room rental and filmmaking/theory courses remain competitive both locally and nationally.

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Those who have visited on a Thursday will see just how popular their Silver Screen, a programme catered to senior citizens, has proved to be. Or any who attended the incredible first Hip-Hop Festival curated by Sophia Ramcharan last year. From family matinees to the Bringing Up Baby screenings, and cinephiles looking for films not screened elsewhere in the region, to first-time filmmakers looking for a venue to host a screening. From those growing increasingly disillusioned with the rocketing prices of multiplexes, to people looking to see classic films on the big screen for the first time, Broadway has consistently proven itself to be a venue not exclusive to the stereotypical middle-aged, beret-wearing philosophy graduate (or the nineteen-year-old arsehole with a penchant for Herzog and cheap bourbon, for that matter).

Whereas the loss of a multiplex cinema might be felt for a week or two, visitors would rest safely in the knowledge that a replacement would surely take its place. The same cannot be said for Broadway; it has become an integral part of the creative and commercial structure of the city. It remains an essential venue for all types of people in Nottingham and further afield, whose needs – be they entertainment, education, social or practical – have been consistently met by a venue that continues to evolve year after year.

Broadway celebrates its 25th birthday from Monday 31 August 2015.

Broadway website

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