Chichester Cinema at New Park, regarded as a gem by film lovers far and wide, will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Now selling more than 72,000 tickets a year, the cinema was the vision of one man, Roger Gibson, an art teacher who set up at film course at Chichester College, Art of the Film, which in turns spawned a film club, with Woody Allen’s Love and Death the first film it showed on September 20 1979.
The film society moved New Park Centre in 1986, eventually becoming Chichester Cinema at New Park. The cinema now shows more 300 films a year at 1,500 screenings and showcases the Chichester International Film Festival, now in its 28th year, the largest on the south coast and one of the top ten in the UK.
Roger, the cinema’s artistic consultant and president, has got together with general manager Walter Francisco and the cinema’s PR and marketing manager Carol Godsmark to plan a ruby year to remember with events including Ruby Tuesdays, a twice monthly screening of iconic films over the decades picked by Roger; Flicks at Forty, a souvenir magazine outlining its past, present and future; and special events including a screening of the cinema’s first film on September 20, the actual anniversary.
Ruby Tuesdays will start in February.
As Roger recalls: “It all began when I was at Chichester College of Technology and when James Gorrie was the principal. The cinema was about to close down in Chichester, the old Granada. I did film studies and used to show films to the students. We started once a week, showing double bills. We started as a film society on September 20 1979 because of the closure of the cinema.”
It went through various names including the Adult Education Film Society: “It stayed that for about three years and then still at the college, it became the Chichester City Film Society and then it moved to New Park in 1986 and became the New Park Film Centre.
“There were problems at the college. The reason we moved was because they were using the main hall for examinations and our continuity got disrupted. I had already found this place at the New Park and we moved across there. The facilities were not as good to begin with, but over the years we have improved them. Things have gradually changed.”
In 1986, they welcomed 10,500 people; by 2002, it was 68,000 people: “And we do a little bit better than that now.”
Things dropped a little after the arrival of Chichester’s multiplex, but soon picked up – and Roger most certainly doesn’t regard the multiplex as a rival in any sense: “I think the multiplex is a good thing for the younger people, though we need to get more young people too. That has been one of our concerns, but now we are getting a much more mixed age group.
“But we also show many films that they wouldn’t show at the multiplex. We get all the foreign films. Anything of significance that is released in the UK, we get.
“When the multiplex came along, we were worried. We didn’t know what effect it would have. We knew that we would not be able to run the first-release films straightaway because they would go to the multiplex, but on the other hand we knew that we would be an alternative to the multiplex because people like our programme and know that they will get a much greater variety. People really seem to like the atmosphere and what we offer.”