Make Believe – the Phoenix rises

Kicked off the weekend at the newly restored Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley – the oldest purpose-built cinema in the land – and the best. It opened exactly 100 years ago as the Premier Electric Theatre.

As I walked back at 2pm, returning from The Media Festival Arts at the Roundhouse where I spent much of Thursday and Friday picking up all kinds of good tips on arts media (I was on the Advisory Board chaired by the charming Peter Bazalgette, comprising a lovely bunch of art-lovers including Marc Boothe, Alan Yentob, Fred Bolza from Sony Music, Pete Buckingham of UK Film Council, Dick Penny from The Watershed in Bristol, Andrew Missingham, among others), I bumped into Paul Homer, manager of The Phoenix outside the recently unscaffolded building. “How’s it going?”, I asked. “A builder has just gone through a water pipe.” Four hours to go til re-opening after months of closure. ” …And another has gone through the electricity cable on the 3rd floor [that’s where the projection room is]”. “Oh”. “I’m getting a sandwich.” “Good move…”

As things panned out, in the best show biz tradition, by 6.15pm work-arounds had been found. The crowd showed up – a full house. I met my C4 Arts colleague Kim Peat by chance in the queue – we both do some pro bono work for The Phoenix. I met a photographer who photographed our Big Lunch/Landshare street party last year. I had my first coffee from the new cafe out on the new balcony. And then I went in to the newly redecorated auditorium, which I had had a sneak preview of the week before, with its two ‘lost’ art deco panels brought out of storage, the hole with a light bulb popping through disappeared from the ceiling and its new womb-like rich red colour.

Opening the reborn picture house was Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe’. Rarely has the disparity between trailer and film been so great. A beautifully made film, and funny. Some wonderful acting, very well written and crafted without flaws.

I asked the first audience question in the new Phoenix – about Frears’ take on the closure of the UK Film Council – he’d just praised the bravery of the financiers in letting him go with a non-starry cast. John Woodward, Pete Buckingham and Tanya Seghatchian (who was on the panel I produced) all handled the difficult situation around UKFC admirably and with humour at The Media Festival Arts. I’m really hoping the coherence of the UKFC doesn’t get lost in this precipitous decision, especially with regards to training and emerging talent. Frears agreed at least in this respect – his jury is out otherwise til he sees where the pieces land.

Tomorrow the new 100 year time-line is unveiled (got a sneaky peak at that too last week, but not yet wired up). I acquired 1936 for the Enfants Terribles – Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was the film I chose from that year. The younger one’s middle name is Charlie. Tonight I’m subjecting/treating them to a viewing ready for tomorrow. Spanners are already on my mind.

As Paul was announcing the re-opening from the stage yesterday (tough guy though he is) he found it hard to keep back the tears after a project that has taken years to realise and a week that has offered him little sleep. He just couldn’t believe it. Much as a certain young girl can’t believe her luck towards the end of Tamara Drewe. She nabs a quick mobile pic to capture the moment. And so have I…

The Auditorium minus screen 3rd Sept 2010

Exterior 3rd Sept

The scaffolding comes off 7th Sept

The new fin and neon 7th Sept

Finishing 9th Sept

Title display sign 10th Sept

10th Sept (morning) Posters reappear

10th Sept (2pm) Water pipe and electricity cable drilled through

10th Sept (6.15pm) The crowd shows

10th Sept (6.45pm) The newly decorated foyer

10th Sept (7pm) The new balcony and fin

10th Sept (7.15pm) Full house

10th Sept (9pm) Stephen Frears is charming

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