The most comfortable cinema experience ever?

Words & images: Joanne Clark | Subbing: Bernadette Galbraith

Independent cinemas are dotted all around London, but have you ever been to one? I spoke to the cinema manager of one of the newest (and oldest) independent cinemas in the city.

Growing up, going to the cinema was something my family did fairly regularly, although it wasn’t until I grew older that my love for cinema really developed. Sometimes we would go to the Genesis Cinema in Stepney, and on special occasions, we would go to the premiere Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square. I have a fond memory of watching one of the earlier Harry Potter films in the huge premiere screen, and feeling like I was somewhere particularly incredible.

Leicester Square Premiere Cinema

This summer, I spent half of my life in the cinema, watching new releases and taking advantage of 2 for 1 offers (I owe a great deal to the person who came up with that idea). If we were going to see an action film or a thriller, we would choose the Vue Xtreme Screen. The difference in atmosphere and quality was noticeable, Vue itself describes it as a “big screen experience” detailing the use of “super-sized screens that measure over 16 metres wide and more than seven metres high” and “immersive surround sound”.

But when I’m not going to a well-known cinema, my local independent cinema is where I get my film fix.

The Olympic Cinema opened in the past couple of years, but it was an immediate hit within the area. It boasts a Dolby Atmos 3D sound system, which the cinema states is important. “We spent years ensuring that the Cinema has a clarity and quality of sound in the main auditorium befitting a space with such an incredible recording history.” Because before the Olympic Cinema was a cinema, it was a studio.

A studio where some of the biggest names in music recorded some of their biggest albums, hit songs and number ones. From 1966, The Rolling Stones recorded six albums through to 1972. The Beatles recorded All You Need Is Love and The Who recorded Who Are You there also.

The music from iconic films such as Michael Caine’s ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ were recorded there. Imagine, the place were Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite were recorded. A place filled with music history. And that’s not even the end of the huge amount of artists and musicians that recorded at the studios.

The building has a long history – it was renamed as a cinema over 100 years ago in 1910, and has had several purposes ever since. Even before that, it was called Byfeld Hall, with the purpose of being a centre for the local community. The name ‘Byfeld Hall’ is still present on the side of the building today.

The exterior of the building is beautiful, but the inside is wholly unique to any other cinema I’ve been to.

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I spoke to the Cinema Manager, Matteo Pompili, about his opinions on independent cinemas, and the Olympic in particular.

VOL: Why do you like to work in an independent cinema? 

Matteo: Independent cinemas have a different vibe than big cinema chains. They are more fascinating, and often have a better film schedule, giving the chance to the audience to watch not only big blockbusters but also independent films.

VOL: How easy is it for independent cinemas to compete against other mainstream cinema companies? (There are two cinemas nearby run by chain companies.)

Matteo: The key to being successful is offering something different and unique, and the Olympic Studios is the perfect example.

VOL: Do you have the same access to films as the big name/chain cinemas?  

Matteo: Our film programmer decides what films we show, and deals and negotiates with film distributors in order to put together the best program for us. The access to films is exactly the same. Bookers watch films months in advance of official cinema release dates, then they make a selection based on what films are more suitable and more likely to sell for the cinema they work for. Obviously negotiations may vary depending on how many screens and how many seats cinemas have.

VOL: Why do you think independent cinemas are so important?

Matteo: They offer a different product than big cinema chains do. A different vibe, a different atmosphere, and this is very important from a customer point of view.

VOL: Do you think the way that the Olympic Cinema is set up – its appearance and atmosphere – adds to the cinema’s charm?

Matteo: Definitely, yes.

VOL: Would you encourage people to go to an independent cinema, rather than a mainsteam cinema?

Matteo: Personally, yes I certainly would.

In London, there are several independent cinemas dotted around the city. Londoners are almost spoilt for choice if they’re looking for a unique cinema experience.

But doesn’t it sound like a dream, going to the cinema, watching a great film, and putting your feet up? Being able to cuddle up to your significant other without the arm of a chair poking into your ribs. Arguing over which cupholder is your own is a thing of the past when you can share a table instead. Why not enjoy a blockbuster in a chair that’s as comfy as the one you have at home?

Check out Olympic Cinema here.

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