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Film buff Thomas Hughes' book shines light on history of Belfast cinema


Thomas Hughes with a cinema projector

Thomas Hughes with a cinema projector

Thomas Hughes with a cinema projector

The history of Belfast cinemas has been explored in a fascinating new book by a film fan whose love of movies started with a 1938 screening of Snow White.

A trip to the Falls Road's Broadway cinema to see the animated Disney film resulted in a lifelong fascination with cinema for Belfast man Thomas Hughes.

Thomas, who was vice-principal of St MacNissi's College (Garron Tower) in Carnlough, has now fulfilled his ambition of completing a book – more than 50 years after he first had the idea – chronicling the history of Belfast cinemas.

The book is called How Belfast Saw the Light as a tribute to Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff who said that making a film was like "painting with light".

Thomas said: "The cinema has given me so much over the years by way of entertainment with artistic and intellectual stimulation and the book is an acknowledgement and thank you.

"The growth of the cinema in Belfast is an integral part of the social and economic history of the city."

Over the years Thomas – whose favourite movie is John Ford classic The Quiet Man – has compiled anything and everything cinema-related that he could find, including posters, pictures and interviews with projectionists like his friend George Shanahan from the Old Classic.

"You could always tell when George was working at the Old Classic because he just seemed to be able to make the picture clearer and brighter," he said.

"He just had this knack. I loved movies so much that George offered to show me the projection room and the huge equipment used to play the 35mm reels."

The book also traces the many censorship rows involving films and the contentious actions of the Police Committee. But above all, the story moves like a time machine from the early days of magic lanterns and kinetoscopes to the hi-tech presentations in multiplexes like Movie House, highlighting along the way the changes in projection technology, the buildings, the people involved and the audiences.

Thomas had little knowledge of digital cinema projection, so approached the Movie House Cinema on the Dublin Road in Belfast for assistance.

"I know very little about digital cinema projection and felt that it was important to cover this in the book," he added.

Thomas reached out to assistant manager Tamara Fetherston and chief digital technician Jim Simpson.

They were only too pleased to show Thomas the new equipment and talk to him about how it works.

Jim said: "I've been a projectionist for 25 years and have seen the changes in technology.

"Now virtually all screens in the UK and Ireland are digital – it's been a major change and I'm delighted that he is including this in his book."


"I started this project so long ago that all my family joked that it'd never be completed. But I got there in the end"

Thomas Hughes – author of How Belfast Saw the Light

Belfast Telegraph