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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Why you should see The Last Projectionist in UK cinemas this weekend
Why you should see The Last Projectionist in UK cinemas this weekend Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 June 2012 13:59

The Last Projectionist

Stand in a multiplex on a busy Friday night and listen carefully. Every now and then an alarm goes off. It’s not a fire alarm; it’s too quiet. It’s the sound of screens warning the projectionist that something needs to be sorted. In the cinema I used to work in, it bleeped a lot.

But these days, there are fewer projectionists around to answer that call. As cinemas go digital and cut down running costs, they fire half the projectionists and operate the thing from the manager's office instead. Play, pause, on, off. That's pretty much all the skill it requires. As of January this year, 63% of the world's cinema screens are now digital.

Things still go wrong, though. We've all seen films displayed in the wrong aspect ratio. Some of us have been treated to 3D movies (incorrectly calibrated) that go green, pink and wibbly. Wibbly's a technical term. Once, because of problems with a digital projector, I had to sit through the opening 20 minutes of The Last Airbender TWICE. NO ONE should have to suffer that. 


A day in the life of a projectionist

The projectionists that are lucky enough to still be in employment are busy running technical errands around the building, changing lightbulbs, etc. In a 15-screen multiplex spanning three floors, that's a lot of lightbulbs. So when something does go wrong, even if it only requires a touch of a button, there's often no one there to sort it out. Have you ever left a screen to tell a member of staff something's wrong with the projection? It takes 10 minutes to get the projectionist to the projector in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a pro-digital guy - as you know, if you read this thing in the Guardian, this bit at Little White Lies, or my general ramblings on the subject - but even if you don't romanticise the sexiness of celluloid, it's sad to be losing a trained profession that makes sure cinemas run smoothly. I spent many months pushing for an article to be published exposing the firing of projectionists and threats of union strikes, but to no avail.

That's why The Last Projectionist is such an interesting documentary to me. Directed by Tom Lawes, it charts the history of Birmingham's The Electric (the oldest working cinema in the UK - and one of my favourite places to watch a film) and shows the rise of digital projection in the face of 35mm. 

Ironically, the film wouldn't have been possible without digital. Indeed, thanks to the lower production and distribution costs, it's great to see Lawes' film get a theatrical run across the UK after impressing us last year at the Cambridge Film Festival - the documentary is an absolute must for all cinephiles.

Read on for a list of cinemas where The Last Projectionist is showing in the UK and when. If you still need convincing, here's our original The Last Projectionist review - and our interview with director Tom Lawes.


The Last Projectionist - UK cinema showtimes

Alhambra Keswick, Cumbria, 22nd June

Barn Cinema, Dartington, 16th July

Chorley Little Theatre, Dates TBC

Cinema City Norwich PictureHouse, 22nd-28th June

City Screen Picturehouse, York, 8th & 12th July

Electric Cinema, Birmingham, 22nd-5th June. Q&A 23rd June

Forest Arts Centre, Hampshire, 11th September with Q&A

Hackney Picturehouse, 29th June-5th July

Harbor Lights Picturehouse, Southhampton, Dates TBC

Hebdon Bridge Picture House, West Yorkshire, 16th July with Q&A

Hyde Park Picturehouse, Leeds. 12th July with Q&A

Ipswich Film Theatre, Dates TBC

IVEAGH Movie Studios Banbridge, N.Ireland, 28th June

Kendal Brewery Arts Centre, Cumbria, 6th-8th July

Leiston Film Theatre, Suffolk, 1 st-4th July. Q&A 4th July

Light Cinema, Wirral, 25th-28th June

Light House, Wolverhampton, 17th-19th July. Q&A 18th July

Little Theatre Cinema Bath Picturehouse, 22nd-28th June

MAC, Birmingham, 22nd-23rd July

Phoenix Picture House, Oxford, 29th-5th June

Plaza Community Cinema, Liverpool, Dates TBC

Reading Film Theatre,Dates TBC

The Phoenix, Finchley, 28th June

The Poly, Falmouth, 3rd-4th September

Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 11th July with Q&A

Plaza, Stockport, 13th July

Glasgow Film Theatre, 9th&10th. Q&A 9th July

Chichester Cinema at New Park, 4th-6th July 


  • 35mm
  • digital
  • projection
  • the electric
  • the last projectionist
  • thomas lawes
  • tom lawes