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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Cambridge Film Festival Review: The Last Projectionist
Cambridge Film Festival Review: The Last Projectionist Print E-mail
Written by Selina Pearson   
Tuesday, 20 September 2011 06:49
Director: Thomas Lawes
Cast: John Brockington, Paul Curtin, Graham Lee, Phil Fawke, Les Castree
Certificate: TBC

In 2004, Tom Lawes bought a derelict old cinema. In 2005, he re-opened it to the public, and there it remains, a stone’s throw from Birmingham New Street station: The Electric, Britain’s oldest working cinema. Lawes’ documentary focuses on The Electric, but paints a wider picture of the history of film projection. It's a fascinating watch.

The Electric itself has been through numerous name changes and owners, from an original stint as a news theatre to a shady period of showing adult cinema. The Last Projectionist follows The Electric, and cinemas in general, from the early days of silent film, through the talkies, to cartoons and (eventually) the multiplexes.

Throughout, there are interviews with old patrons and former owners. Segments show a discussion between five hardy old projectionists mourning their dying art and reminiscing cinematic history. They discuss the barring system whereby one cinema, usually a multiplex, had sole rights to show a particular film in a geographical region and its catastrophic effects on smaller cinemas.

Lawes also talks to people involved in running other independent cinemas – an area going from strength to strength as customers reject the conveyor belt philosophy of the multiplexes; the comfort and experience offered by the independents is lulling people away from their flat-screen TVs and blu-ray players.

The film closes with the switch from 35mm to digital and the end of projection as we know it, but the tone is never mournful. Celluloid can be prohibitively expensive and digital offers an easier and cheaper way to distribute and show film. It concludes that the role of the projectionist in indie picturehouses will shift to a more technical role. For those in multiplexes, the future is far less certain.

Intercut with charming animation and scored with Tom’s own music, The Last Projectionist is a lively and informative documentary on the history of the pictures. A must for all cinephiles.


Have you seen it? What did you think?

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