Flashback to Square's movie past

01:19, Oct 24 2014
Heavenly Creatures
PERFECT FIT: Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures was an obvious choice for the project's first film in the square.

It is hard to imagine that Cathedral Square was once the cinematic capital of the southern hemisphere.

There were nine grand picture palaces in the Square, capable of seating about 9000 people.

Now there are none.

Before the earthquakes, the only reminder of this past was the Regent on Worcester and a small arthouse cinema behind the old The Press building.

But tonight, for the first time since the earthquakes, on the site of the former State cinema on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Sts, people will gather once again to enjoy a movie in the city centre.

The Picture Palace Parade is a project I have worked on as a small part of the 2014 Festival of Transitional Architecture (FESTA), an event that this weekend celebrates creative city-making, bringing people and light to the streets.


There will be a free open air screening of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures after a walking tour of the square's former cinema sites.

Heavenly Creatures seemed an obvious choice. It is the best film made in Christchurch and captures a precious slice of the lost city.

I proposed the project because I love movies and love watching them with other people, but also because I think it's important that cinema returns to its rightful place in the city centre.

In cities, the meaning of a place endures through time.

In Christchurch, you can see this happening on the Isaac Theatre Royal site on Gloucester Street.

It is a site that has always been associated with entertainment. Even before the theatre was built in 1908, the paddock where it now stands was used by visiting circuses.

During the restoration of the theatre, the skeleton of a 150-year-old circus pony was found buried underground. It was still wearing its shoes.

But the earthquakes caused a violent break with the past for many Christchurch places.

By showing the film I want to reconnect Cathedral Square to its past and point to the city centre's rightful cinematic future.

While working on this project, I spoke to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee about the performing arts precinct, a development proposed for the empty site where the film will be screened tonight. Brownlee said they were considering including an arthouse cinema on the site.

I was astonished. It felt like the meaning of these old cinema sites was enduring, despite earthquakes, insurance woes, bureaucracy and loss.

The meaning of these places could not be shaken off.

Showbusiness was in their very bones.


Heavenly Creatures will be screened on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Sts at 7.30pm tonight. FESTA, the Festival of Transitional Architecture, starts today and runs throughout Labour Weekend offering a wide variety of events.

The Press