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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 17 October, 2018
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'We're more intimate': How small Irish cinemas are fighting back against blockbuster screens

Running an independent cinema is tough – but there is a new appetite for a more personal touch.

OVER THE PAST few decades, the number of independent cinemas in Ireland has dwindled. Cast your eye across the Irish cinema landscape and you’ll see it dominated by chains like Omniplex, IMC, Odeon and Cineworld.

It’s a far cry from the days in which Dublin had 56 cinemas in operation. In fact, with the closure of Screen Cinema and the imminent shuttering of Savoy Cinema’s iconic Screen One, it can feel as though Ireland’s cinematic glory days are behind us.

However, there are still a number of small and boutique cinemas operating around Ireland and doing their utmost to compete with their blockbuster rivals. Take the likes of the IFI and the Light House in Dublin, or the family-run Classic Movieplex in Listowel and Phoenix Cinema in Dingle.

Phoenix Cinema is one of just a handful of family-run cinemas left in Ireland. It’s a single-screen theatre that sits 150 patrons and enjoys the distinction of being the only cinema on the Dingle Peninsula.

It opened in 1980 and continues to be run by the O’Sullivan family. At any given time, the cinema is usually showing only one film – as of writing, they were showing The Last Jedi – and they also run an Art Film night every Tuesday night with tea and biscuits.

Francis O’Sullivan admits it’s difficult to run a small cinema, but says it has received great support from the community over the last few decades.

“Even though we’re located in a remote and sparsely populated area, we get great local support,” he says. “We’re also lucky that Dingle is a very popular holiday destination and most of our customers in the tourist season are visitors to the area.”

“Our greatest challenges are not so much to do with being an independent cinema as dealing with the same problem that anyone trying to run a business in this country faces: the massive running costs and the fact that these continue to increase every year. Our electricity, heating, and especially our insurance costs are our greatest ongoing challenge.”

He believes that the likes of Phoenix Cinema can offer a “more personal and intimate experience” than the chain multiplexes and that it also enables them to programme more eclectic fare.

“While we will never be all things to all people, we try to be as many things to as many people as possible, so we try to show a mixture of mainstream Hollywood fare as well as the maximum amount of arthouse films that we can schedule over the year,” he says.

“Plus we try to show as many Irish films as possible, most of which never make it into the multiplexes.”

Phoenix Cinema harks back to a time when cinemas around Ireland were small and intimate. A time when cinemas were called things like The Coliseum, The Regal or The Adelphi.

Among these cinemas was Stella in Rathmines, The cinema first opened in 1923 before closing in the 2000s. It lay empty for a decade before it was acquired by Press Up Entertaiment earlier this year.

“The Stella has always been an iconic part of Ireland’s cinematic history,” explains a spokeswoman for Press Up Entertainment. “So when it became available for purchase we were delighted to take the opportunity to return her to her former glory.”

The newly refurbished single-screen cinema has been open since October and it’s a far cry from your typical cinema. Think cocktails, side lamps, red couches, ottomans and blankets.

In other words, they weren’t too concerned about opening right across the road from another cinema. “We feel our offering will attract a national audience, not just people from Dublin or Rathmines,” they explain.

At present, they show a mixture of new films, old films and forgotten classics. Their programme for January includes everything from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

It’s clear they are positioning themselves as an alternative to your typical ‘pub followed by a dance in Flannery’s’ night out.

“The Stella Theatre is part of the current wave of new alternative nights out in the city,” they say. “We don’t see our offering as a requirement to stand out among other cinemas, but rather we see a visit to The Stella as a new overall experience that is enticing to a broader audience.”

And it seems as though the people behind The Stella are planning on staying in the cinema game. The group plans to open The Devlin, a boutique hotel in Ranelagh in 2018. As part of the offering, the hotel will feature a 50-seater cinema in the basement, billed as a sister cinema to the Stella.

“We’ll be screening indie films and brilliant classics all week long,” they say.

Sit back and enjoy the show, so.

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Amy O'Connor

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