Alternatives to the multiplex

Property developer John Tate inside the new 56 seater Ilkley Cinema which is under construction on Leeds Road, Ilkley. Picture Anna Gowthorpe.
Property developer John Tate inside the new 56 seater Ilkley Cinema which is under construction on Leeds Road, Ilkley. Picture Anna Gowthorpe.
  • There hasn’t been a cinema in Ilkley for four decades, but thanks to the vision of one man and a team of local supporters that is set to change this year. Yvette Huddleston reports.
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In an era when we can all access our favourite movies on any number of personal electronic devices at the drop of a hat, going to the cinema may seem like a bit of an old-fashioned pastime. However, some of us still yearn for the collective experience of sitting in a darkened auditorium in front of a big screen – and John Tate is one of them.

He is the passionate driving force behind a new cinema in Ilkley, scheduled to open in November – just in time to preview the latest Bond movie.

A view outside the new 56 seater Ilkley Cinema which is under construction on the Leeds Road, Ilkley. Picture Anna Gowthorpe.

A view outside the new 56 seater Ilkley Cinema which is under construction on the Leeds Road, Ilkley. Picture Anna Gowthorpe.

Two years ago Tate, an Ilkley-based property consultant with thirty years’ experience, set out on a two-month trip to New Zealand with his wife to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. It was while staying with his wife’s sister in Wanaka on the South Island that the first seeds of the idea for a cinema in Ilkley were sown. “One night we went to a little 80-seater cinema called Il Paradiso which has been there for about 20 years,” says Tate. “It was a bit rundown and shabby, which is part of its charm, but everybody in the town loves it and it’s in the Lonely Planet guide so it’s on the tourist trail. It was the first time I had been in a cinema where the audience sits on sofas; it was just fabulous, I loved it and I thought ‘this would go down so well in Ilkley’. I sat there on a sofa with my glass of wine in New Zealand and wondered where we could do it in Ilkley. I knew you would need somewhere with a high ceiling for the screen. Then I thought of the Trav…”

Il Trovatore, affectionately known as ‘the Trav’ by long-time Ilkley residents of a certain age, was a nightclub which operated for about 25 years in the upstairs floor of a rather splendid-looking Victorian stone building on Leeds Road. It closed its doors around ten years ago and has been empty ever since. Built in 1890 as a Co-operative, the upper floors of the building were used for educational and entertainment purposes, so the new cinema will, in a sense, continue this tradition.

As soon as he returned from New Zealand, Tate contacted the agent dealing with the sale of the premises, picked up the keys and went to have a look. When he got there he had an appropriately filmic experience, something akin to Kevin Costner’s “if you build it, they will come” moment in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams (but substituting a cinema for the baseball diamond). “The building was completely derelict,” he says, “but it has a big back wall and I stood in front of it and thought ‘you could get a screen on there.’ I know it sounds cheesy but I felt as if it was my job to do this.” Once he had found a potential venue for the cinema, Tate then set about doing his research. “I had no knowledge about running a cinema or how you book films,” he says. “So I then spent a year going round the country talking to lots of people running independent cinemas. They were all really helpful and generous – they told me everything, showed me round projector rooms and told me about what kind of audiences they got. Gradually I got to learn about how the system works with distributors and so on. Fairly early on I got distribution agreed with Warner, Universal, Columbia, Sony and Artificial Eye – that turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be.”

In the meantime he was also working with local architects Halliday Clark who were putting in the planning application – they were granted consent in March – and creating a design for the cinema which will include a small licensed bar, lounge and balcony area. It will seat 56 people on sofas – and the seating will be raked to ensure an unobstructed view. On the technical side, Tate enlisted the help of Sound Associates who will be providing top-spec digital equipment which will mean the cinema, when it opens, will be the smallest 4K resolution cinema in Europe, a title currently held by the 68-seater Cinema dei Piccoli in Rome.

With the design and a business plan in place, there was then the small matter of raising the £550,000 required to build the cinema. Using another successful Ilkley business as a model – The Flying Duck pub which was launched with the support of local investors and opened in November 2013 – Tate and his business partner John Hewitt approached local friends and acquaintances, gathering together a group of investors who are all shareholders in the company.

They are now a few weeks into the 24-week build. That includes making some structural adjustments before moving on to the interior design – which will have its own distinctive style. “We wanted it to look urban and slightly industrial with exposed brickwork,” says Tate. “The sofas will be all different colours, a bit eclectic, so that it feels comfortable, but modern and up-to-date.” He promises that there won’t be any ‘golden-age-of-cinema’ red velvet in sight.

As far as the programming is concerned, they have given it a lot of thought and want to provide a broad range of films, so as to engage with as many film-goers, of different tastes and ages, as they can. “We are going to be showing quite mainstream, blockbuster films – and some independent movies, but we didn’t want it to be an art-house cinema,” says Tate. “We want it to be for everyone. The plan is to have over thirty screenings a week, seven days a week, with three to four films rotating at different times including the afternoons. There will be children’s films on Saturday mornings and a late film on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We will also be doing live-streaming from NT Live, RSC, the Met Opera and the ballet.”

It has been very much a local enterprise – all the major investors are from Ilkley and partnerships have been set up with businesses in the town to provide the food, beer and wine that will be on sale at the cinema. “The response locally has been great,” says Tate. “And we want to support the local business community.”

Ilkley hasn’t had a permanent commercial cinema for over 40 years since the Essoldo and Star cinemas closed in the 1960s, although the Ilkley Film Society screen films fortnightly at Ilkley Playhouse, which also occasionally shows movies. The Ilkley Film Festival, which has run very successfully in February for the past two years using the Playhouse and the King’s Hall as venues, has proved that there is a local appetite for film-going – all of which bodes well for the cinema’s future. Next year it will be one of the places where the festival will be screening films – and there is a growing trend for small independent boutique cinemas and pop-ups as more and more people seek an alternative to the somewhat sterile multiplex experience.

Interviews are currently underway to appoint a cinema manager and the new Bond movie Spectre is already booked for November 20. Tate is planning a bit of an opening bash – and he’s working on trying to get someone quite special to attend, 007 himself.

“We are hoping that Daniel Craig might be available,” he says. “We would love him to come.”

• In Yorkshire we are very lucky to have a number of excellent independent cinemas. 
The following are just a few of the places where you can enjoy an alternative to the multiplex experience. 
In Leeds the Cottage Road Cinema and the Hyde Park Picturehouse are both original cinemas dating back to the early 20th century as are the entirely volunteer-run Ritz in Thirsk, The Rex in Elland (which also holds regular organ concerts), the Plaza in Skipton and the Picture House in Hebden Bridge, while in Richmond you can see movies at The Station 
in what was a derelict Victorian station building until it reopened 
as an arts, small business and heritage centre – with two cinemas – in 2007.