MoneyMaker Movie of the Week: The Last Projectionist
The heart warming and breaking story of film projectionism
The artform that is projecting film onto a cinema screen is one that for a century has been in the hands of a highly-skilled and passionate group of people. These hardy folk sound like you and I, walk amongst you and I, and even look like you and I, but it is these incredible people that make our movie-going dreams come true.
Or at least they were for a century until the multiplex started its inexorable rise.
The role of the projectionist was often humble, but always essential. These vision-makers worked in crowded boxes above auditoriums, regularly treading a fine line of danger with highly flammable celluloid, skilfully stitching together reels of film like a silver-screen Rumpelstiltskin. But it was when these noble men and women placed the reels on the projector and the light passed through them that they came alive, and the projectionist’s quest was completed.
Over the years, these daily quests have overcome such revolutionary changes as silents to talkies, mono to colour, and even bombs from above, when the War-time projectionists became the news-givers of the time, running regular news and propaganda to keep the nation’s spirit alive. However, despite beating all these problems, one obstacle has proved impossible to beat; technology.
As the digital revolution gained pace, it opened up new online opportunities for the world, and challenged many traditional industries, with music and newspaper publishing chief amongst the terrified behemoths. And then, just as the film industry was realising with joy that it would be far cheaper to stream digital content down wires to cinemas rather than produce thousands of expensive prints, so came the inevitable cloud of doom upon the lowly-paid and largely unsung heroes of movies, the projectionists.
First of all it was one digital projector in a multiplex, then it was all of them, and then independent arts cinemas realised they would be left behind and had to bade farewell to celluloid and hello to ones and zeroes, at the cost of many of the talented people working in the heavens above cinemas.
The Last Projectionist tells this story through that most British of instutions, the pub.
A handful of erudite and hardworking souls of projectionism chat candidly about their lives behind the projectors, and that of the cinemas that have been their professional lifetime habitats. It’s both heart warming and breaking, and feels like a heart-felt eulogy at the funeral of their industry, celebrating its life, rather than bemoaning its digital future.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as punctuating the conversation is a central narrative about the restoration of the Electric cinema in Birmingham, which gives hope to those of us who believe in the magic of film, and who understand the inspiration and joy it can bring.
As the Electric shows signs of life, so do other independent cinemas as many film-goers begin to choose a personalised quality experience over what The Last Projectionist labels the ‘sheep-dipping’ of multiplexes. It’s a pleasing development for anyone who loves the smell and sense of a beautifully restored independent cinema, and if this film doesn’t swell you with hope that the art form of protectionism may yet find a way, nothing will.