A gilty pleasure: my very own cinema

Films are in my family, says ex-publisher and lawyer as he opens an Art Deco picture palace

Friday, 8th April — By Dan Carrier

ILIF Festival

The Art Deco interior of the Garden Cinema

WHEN Michael Chambers was a youngster, heading to the cinema each week offered thrilling escapism.

It wasn’t just what you saw on screen but the whole experience of stepping into a grand picture palace, from the opulent red velvet seats to the gilt mouldings, the treat of a choc-ice and a professional organist entertaining before the lights dimmed and credits rolled.

So imagine how he felt as he sat back in such a cinema – this time not as a customer, but as a proprietor of a new one in Covent Garden.

Mr Chambers, a former lawyer and publisher, has opened the doors to The Garden Cinema, a new two-screen venture in Parker Street.

He told the Extra that while he has enjoyed a career in the law and legal publishing, film was always his first love and owning a cinema was a long-held dream.

“I always wanted to be in the film business and it was what I was set on doing after I sold my publishing firm,” he said.

Michael Chambers

“My father, Jack, made documentaries in the 1930s and 1940s, while my uncle made feature films. My son is a documentary film-maker. It is in the family.”

Added to this, his former father-in-law, Charlie Cooper, owned the Rex cinema, now the Phoenix in East Finchley and other independents.

It gave him a grounding in how films are made, produced and distributed, which he is now set to draw on.

He said: “I can’t see a film without thinking about editing and direction.

“My father used to take me on location and could do whatever I wanted, as long as I kept out of the way of the camera.”

The chance to open the cinema came up after he kept hold of his publishing firm’s headquarters.

“Our previous offices had an art gallery on the ground floor and it had terrific pavement-facing windows,” he said.

“When I moved to Covent Garden, I thought I would have another gallery, but there was nowhere for it to go. I went into the basement hoping it may work, but it was so dark and gloomy.

“I thought I can’t put pictures up here. I know, I’ll use it for moving pictures instead.”

The Garden Cinema includes offices and studio spaces called the Cine Centre, for film-related work.

As for the programming, Mr Chambers said the Garden Cinema would offer a genuine alternative to chains, with the owner acting as an unofficial quality control officer.

He said: “The temptation is to put on the films I like. But, of course, that would not work.

“I have stated my philosophy regarding films and I do have strong views, but I can’t just over-ride my colleagues. I do not want to show a film I haven’t yet seen.

“By and large, cinemas have to show whatever they are given. We won’t do that.

“We will have new releases, but ones worth seeing, we’ll show a range of other films from across the ages and also have seasons. You come here, and you will see a good film. That is the key aim.”

And in addition to being the owner and co-programmer, Mr Chambers has even designed the cinema’s interior, giving it an Art Deco feel.

He said: “I wanted to create a place that in my mind I intrinsically link to cinema.

“I bought a lot of books on Art Deco design and took it from there.”

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