Hidden inside one of the New Zealand International Film Festival's smallest venues is a secret chamber filled with the faded grandeur of cinema's glory days.
Built in 1930, Masterton's Regent 3 Cinemas is one of the stalwarts on the festival's provincial circuit, taking part in its various incarnations for the past 38 years - making it one of the longest-running regional venues, festival director Bill Gosden said.
On Friday, the Regent announces its festival lineup and owner Brent Goodwin said: "Masterton has a sophistication that many people would miss and it's because it is, really, a suburb of Wellington."
Goodwin sells about 100,000 tickets annually, impressive in a town of 23,500 and in a cinema that closed as sales plummeted, just before Goodwin bought it and turned it around 25 years ago.
The cinema once seated 1180 in a huge, two-tier auditorium. Goodwin built two new cinemas seating 75 and 97 on the bottom tier, and a third, seating 160, above. He left room in between for an ambitious live-theatre project which, had it come to fruition, would have used the massive original stage and a new floor seating hundreds.
The meagre lighting inside the cavernous space reveals ornate plasterwork overhead, variously described as arabesque, Spanish-style and art deco. Famous performers such as the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Sir Jon Trimmer once appeared beneath, reputedly, the country's widest proscenium arch.
The same stage was the scene of legendary staff parties involving some 35 ushers and other workers - now there are just two fulltime staff. The soaring chamber is eventhought to house a ghost or two, Goodwin says.
Gosden said that, with 87 per cent of the festival's income last year coming from the box office, regional support was vital. "Which is what we have in Masterton - we're completely dependent on local commitment, really."
- The Dominion Post