Alice pretty as a picture
Art and Stage
Christchurch's first new post-earthquakes cinema opened yesterday. Charlie Gates went along for a look.
"I want this building to become a landmark for the arts."
The 1931 former Post Office building on the corner of High and Tuam streets was always a local landmark. After the Canterbury quakes razed almost everything around the building, it has become a symbol for recovery.
Building owner and Alice in Videoland founder Paul Stewart wants it to become a new centre for the arts.
It towers above everything around it now, surrounded on all sides by empty sites. A tall, elegant art deco building that looks set to be a new focal point for the Christchurch arts community. It is one of very few heritage buildings that have survived the Canterbury earthquakes intact.
Alice's DVD rental store reopened in a new space at the back of the building in March, a new arthouse cinema opened in the building yesterday, the Physics Room exhibition space will return to two floors next month and C1 Coffee will open in the front of the building at the end of October.
Alice's director Jeremy Stewart says the building will be a new hive of activity in the city centre.
"Once C1 is open and I am fully in swing we will have quite an attractive place to be," he says.
Alice's local neighbourhood already has a bit of a buzz about it. Across the road, the new IT hub is under construction, a mobile cafe sits next door to feed hungry workers and round the corner on St Asaph St a new bar and restaurant is planned. Tuam St recently reopened, bringing a bit more life to the area.
The new arthouse cinema will certainly be a drawcard. The 38-seat digital cinema is the first to reopen in the city centre since the February 2011 earthquake. The ornate cinema is decked out in Egyptian revival style, complete with hieroglyphics, Tutankhamen masks and a carved Isis above the screen. Egyptian revival was popular in the United States in the 1920s following the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. It dovetails perfectly with the art deco style of the building.
It has a traditional, red velvet curtain across the screen that pulls back before the movie starts. For Paul Stewart, the curtain is a welcome dose of nostalgia.
"When is that last time you saw a red curtain that opens before the film? The last time I saw that I was a 7-year-old in Reefton," he says.
Jeremy Stewart says distributors are keen to show their films at the new cinema.
The February quake took out 21 screens in Christchurch, a figure that rose to 24 when the Hornby Movieland closed in November last year to make way for mall expansion plans. The Regent on Worcester and Metro Gold cinemas near Cathedral Square were destroyed, the Rialto on Moorhouse Ave closed in the wake of the quakes, the Hoyts on Moorhouse Ave has been demolished and the Academy and Cloisters cinemas in the Arts Centre are also closed. The Hollywood Theatre in Sumner is the only cinema in Christchurch with a regular arthouse programme.
"I think we will be oversubscribed. We lost 21 screens in Christchurch in February last year. This is only a toe in the water. We need another cinema complex to bring us up to speed," says Paul Stewart.
Cinema owner Rodney Cook, who used to run the Metro Gold, Academy and Cloisters cinemas, hopes to have a new three-screen arthouse cinema open by Christmas in the Colombo Mall in Sydenham.
The seats at the new Alice's cinema were recovered from the Movieland theatre in a nice little symbol of recycling and renewal. Jeremy Stewart hand picked the best 38 seats.
Alice's new cinema will screen an eclectic mix of arthouse movies from esoteric fare like Holy Motors to more mainstream hits like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film's opening programme includes Bernie, a Jack Black film that did well at the New Zealand International Film Festival and German World War II drama Wunderkinder.
There will be about five screenings a day and, once C1 is open, you will be able to take your coffee through to the cinema.
C1 owner Sam Crofsky is excited by the prospect of his new cafe. He is decorating the new space, formerly occupied by Alice's, with an eye on what Christchurch has lost in the quakes. The wood panelling on the walls was salvaged from local demolition sites, the table tops are made from floorboards recovered from the nearby Edward Gibbons building and recycling company Rekindle, which makes furniture from material recovered in the red zone, is making the outdoor furniture.
"It will be a great little building with the Physics Room and the new theatre and us," he says.
"We have tried to make the place tell the stories of Christchurch. We don't want to lose touch with our stories. We want this place to say: 'We're from Christchurch and we're OK.' Hopefully this will inspire others to get in there. We are bringing some excitement back."
Crofsky has also created a rooftop space for special occasions, complete with 360 degree views of the city, a vineyard and a beehive with transparent sides so you can see the bees at work while you relax.
Physics Room programmer Elle Loui says they planned to return to the building in two months. They will take two floors of the building, rather than just one to give them more exhibition space.
"It is going to be an amazing space and there will be a lot of energy in the place."
The art deco Alice's building already has a place in the city's affections, it is heartening to know it will also have a place in the city's future.
- © Fairfax NZ News