Chch needs a 'picture palace'

Christchurch audiences have embraced the New Zealand International Film Festival this year. However, James Croot suggests there's only one way for it to continue to build momentum in the city.

After last year was beset by continuing aftershocks, a populace fearful of enclosed spaces and an unusual snowfall, it was great to see the buzz around Hoyts Northlands in the past fortnight.

The foyer of the six-screen suburban multiplex has been alive with the sounds of filmgoers discussing their favourite films and eagerly anticipating their next cinematic journey.

Well done to the New Zealand International Film Festival organisers, Hoyts Northland staff and the citizens of our fair city for making the film fest such a success this year. I think it proved just how starved we are for quality "arthouse cinema".

But while that should be partly sated by the arrival of Alice's Cinematheque next month and the promise of a three-screen cinema at The Colombo (run by the indefatigable Rodney Cook and team) sometime in the summer, they, Sumner's Hollywood or Northlands are not where the future of this showpiece of global cinema should be.

Long before the earth started reconfiguring and shattering Christchurch's cinematic landscape, the Garden City had a major void among its venues. Unlike Wellington, Auckland or Dunedin, for almost 20 years we have had no "picture palace" to turn going to the movies into an event.

Cathedral Square and surrounds used to be full of them, but through neglect and the rise of the mall multiplex, they all disappeared. Now, we have an opportunity to rectify that and create our own festival home to rival the Embassy, Civic or Regent, and it doesn't need to involve a purpose-built venue.

Right behind my desk they are in the process of bringing back to life the Isaac Theatre Royal.

It has hosted films before, between 1916 and 1956, and again briefly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With its grand interior, central location and impressive seating, it would ensure big festival films get the audiences they deserve and people wouldn't be turned away by sold out signs, as has frequently happened in the past decade at the festival.

Proving the Theatre Royal's status as a multipurpose venue, it would also help ensure its year- round use, but at the same time only take up just over two weeks out of what will hopefully be a busy schedule.

And while I advocate the Theatre Royal as the festival's space, I would certainly envisage smaller screenings potentially taking place at fellow central city theatres like Alice's, The Colombo and the Art Gallery's Phillip Carter auditorium.

It's precisely that kind of diversity of close-knit spaces and targeted screenings that makes, in particular, the Wellington festival such an "event" and a success that we would be churlish not to try and emulate.

The Press