A new manager, new digital equipment and the latest releases all point to 2013 being a memorable year for the upper Calder Valley’s only cinema.
Behind the 1920s facade of Hebden Bridge Picture House lies a digital heart beating with fresh film blood, giving life to a building which might otherwise have been in its death throes.
The cinema is now in the hands of Hebden Royd Town Council, which took over its running last April from Calderdale Council. Hebden Royd councillors, aware that investment was urgently needed, made sure the venue was able to compete with multiplex giants by adding digital equipment to complement the existing 35mm projector.
It means the cinema can now show all up-to-the-minute releases, most of which are only available on the digital format – yet it can also screen films previously released on 35mm film, as it has two fully trained projectionists.
Newly appointed manager Rebekah Fozard is in no doubt what would have happened if the town council had not asked council tax payers, via its precept, to foot the bill for the digital investment, which for the average Hebden Royd household was a £10 one-off increase in this current year’s council tax.
“The council tax went up for this year but without that we would have been watching the cinema dying, rather than thriving,” she says. “I think it is important for people to realise that what they did was absolutely critical for the cinema’s survival.”
Rebekah and the venue’s programming and marketing officer Jonny Courtney, a former manager of the Picture House until 2010, are now working closely with their small team to bring the best cinematic experience to the valley. One idea which had been in the offing for a few years finally came to fruition on Tuesday when the Picture House hosted its first “baby screening”, an idea to allow parents or guardians to take their tots to the cinema for a couple of hours’ entertainment.
First up was the PG-rated Life of Pi, screened in the morning, which attracted about 35 adults and 30 babies. “It’s going quite well and everyone said, ‘I’m going to go home and tell my friends about it,” Rebekah says.
Next up, on Tuesday, February 12, is the highly acclaimed new film Les Miserables (12A), which has a star-studded cast including Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Helena Bonham Carter.
The programme begins at 10.30am, with the main film starting at 11am. Only parents with babies or toddlers can attend these special screenings and there’s a special price too - £5, to include a free tea, coffee or squash.
As there’s no upper age limit to these special screenings for the babies and toddlers, Rebekah is leaving it up to parental discretion as to whether they feel their youngsters have the concentration span to sit quietly through the film or amuse themselves without disrupting the rest of the audience too much.
Rebekah, 34, is mum to 18-month-old Dylan, who is just at the age where his bursts of energy might impinge on other people’s enjoyment of the film.
“Crying’s OK,” she says, in case any parents are in doubt as to what might be acceptable from their offspring. “If you have a crawling baby you might want to sit near the front and bring in some toys.”
That new project aside, there are other new developments to tempt the palate of Hebden Bridge cinema aficionados.
One of the priorities is to make the kiosk as relevant to visitors as possible, so the cinema will be selling beer, Pilsner, cider and wine at its evening screenings, stocking Yorkshire Dales ice cream, bringing in new sweets and chocolates and stocking a range of gluten-free products.
Rebekah says: “We have such a faithful following. People come from as far afield as Padiham and Holmfirth and hopefully they like what we are doing.”
Rebekah’s role as manager of the cinema is in some ways a dream come true.
She studied law at Cambridge University and while there ran the film society at St John’s College, Cambridge, where she learned how to be a projectionist.
“I had always wanted to work in visual and performing arts and my interest in film goes back a long way,” she says.
She was a commercial property solicitor for seven years and, while working in Harrogate, studied part time for a Masters degree in Culture, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at Leeds University. She worked at Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Halifax, from 2010 before leaving to have Dylan.
Hebden Bridge Picture House has 492 seats, so it’s large enough to generate a lively atmosphere when there’s a full house, yet intimate enough to provide a traditional warm and welcoming theatre experience.
That makes it ideal for the live music and comedy shows which occasionally arrive at the Picture House.
In the autumn Scottish songstress Eddi Reader, former frontwoman of the band Fairground Attraction, played a lively gig at the venue.
And in the next few weeks the Picture House will host Lancastrian comedian Dave Spikey, who will be bringing the fourth incarnation of his show Words Don’t Come Easy to the upper Calder Valley - see next week’s paper for an interview with Dave and a chance to win a pair of tickets to the show on Thursday, March 14. The Picture House also has regular weekly screenings on Thursday mornings. The “Elevenses” screenings have proved to be popular and films already shown this month include Great Expectations (12A) and The Hobbit (12A). Life of Pi will be screened today (doors 10.15am, programme starts at 10.30am, feature starts at 11am).
There’s also a loyalty scheme called Picture This, which allows members to join either individually (£20) or have joint membership (£33).
Members get two complimentary tickets and two hot drinks on the night they join, and then 50p off the price of tickets on each subsequent visit. People can also join The Friends of the Picture House, a voluntary group that represents everyone who uses the venue.
Its elected committee meets regularly to consider what its members want from the Picture House and how the Friends can ensure that the cinema continues to thrive.