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Silver screen memories: exhibition recalls the heyday of Belfast cinemas

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 Classic old  Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

Classic old  Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

Classic old  Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

 Classic old  Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

 Classic old  Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

Classic old Belfast cinemas

As a new exhibition recalls the heyday of Belfast cinemas, take our challenge to pinpoint the location of some of the best-known ones.

What do Jury's Hotel, an Asian supermarket and the Grand Opera House have in common?

The answer is they all used to be cinemas, according to former Queen's Film Theatre director Michael Open, who is curating a new exhibition charting the evolution of cinema in Belfast.

Belfast was once home to more than 40 cinemas, with many of the city's arterial routes hosting three or more of these art deco palaces as cinemas surged in popularity.

Now the only picture houses remaining from those heady days are the Strand Cinema in east Belfast and the Queen's Film Theatre, with some converted into carpet warehouses, others into hotels and even one which has vanished under the Westlink. Can you pinpoint where our cinemas used to be on a map of Belfast?

The Building for Silver Screens exhibition kicks off with the earliest Belfast cinemas in 1911, documenting the boom times in the 1930s and moving into the slow decline of cinema.

"At its peak in 1947 over half of Belfast's population went to the cinema every week," Michael explained. "Things started to decline in 1957 with the development of TV, and then again in the '70s, with the Troubles when two of Belfast's most famous cinemas – The Curzon on the Ormeau Road, and The New Vic and ABC, formerly the Ritz, were hit by bombs.

"This photo exhibition features 20 of the best Belfast cinemas – starting in 1911 and going all the way up to 1970 with the QFT. The vast majority of the cinemas featured are from the golden age of the art deco movement of the 1930s and include the likes of The Ritz, The Majestic on the Lisburn Road, and the last surviving cinema of its time – the Strand in east Belfast."

The exhibition owes its genesis to 1984 when Michael's history of Belfast cinemas, Fading Lights Silver Screen was published.

"I spent a lot of time trawling through old photos, researching old documents and talking to people. Obviously information has been lost in time and sadly, pictures of some of the cinemas will never be found," added Michael.

David Alderdice of British Council NI said: "Exhibitions such as this are extremely important for Belfast as they give an insight into the city's social history and what has been left behind."

Absorbing Modernity is a mini-festival within the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival. It is programmed by the British Council and supported by the Arts Council NI.

Factfile

Building for Silver Screens runs until Saturday, November 1. As part of the event, there will also be a heritage tour of the Strand Cinema and its unique art deco architecture today. Tours are limited to 10 people and admission is £3. For more information on any Absorbing Modernity events visit http://www.belfastfestival.com. For more information on British Council Northern Ireland visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI

Belfast Telegraph