Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Curzon Cinema in Ormeau gets another shot at fame thanks to passion of film-makers

By Gillian Halliday

The final credits may have rolled a long time ago on Belfast's much-loved Curzon Cinema - but now a documentary about the lost Ormeau Road landmark has made it on to the silver screen.

Nearly two years in the making, the Curzon Project film, recently had its premiere at the Queen's Film Theatre.

It is the brainchild of coffee shop owner Orla Smyth and graphic designer Paul McNally, who joined forces with Sara Gunn-Smith from cinema campaign group Film Hub NI.

Produced by Out of Orbit Films, the documentary is a love letter to the much-missed picture house which was run for over six decades by the Gaston family before it was closed in the late 1990s and later redeveloped into apartments.

Former cinema-goers, employees and locals all share their cherished memories for the 20-minute film.

The idea to produce the short documentary was sparked when Paul asked Orla to sell T-shirts he had designed bearing a stylised graphic outline of the Curzon, in her Ormeau Road coffee establishment, and it snowballed from there.

Further into the project, NI Screen came on board to provide a final boost of funding to get the project over the finish line.

Orla, who loved going to the cinema throughout her childhood, says the film perfectly reflects just how much the Curzon meant to locals.

"I grew up going to the Curzon in the '80s and '90s, and it was the place that you went to. You got your money for the film and your sweets and you went along to the Curzon to see the latest film," she said.

"It was a place of community, it brought people together. It was family-run, so when you went in, you would know who the manager was, so we just thought it would be a lovely idea for a film about the cinema to be made, which would bring people together to share their memories.

"When we launched the documentary project 18 months ago, we were inundated by people getting in touch. We had so many calls from people and there was not one negative memory or experience expressed at all. People talked about having their first date there, and there were a lot of marriage proposals. A lot of people remember going to see major films like Dirty Dancing, Grease and Schindler's List."

Orla continued: "People genuinely have fond memories of the Curzon. Cinemas now are so big and industrial and the thing with the Curzon was that you knew the people there."

The film was funded by proceeds from sales of Paul's t-shirts and specially-designed art prints of the Curzon, and Orla, who grew up only streets away from the picture house, says it was a project that brought her right back to her formative years.

"My whole childhood I went to the Curzon, right up to university. Then the huge movie houses and big omniplex cinemas came along, and people moved away from going to places like the Curzon, but I think there's a change now, I think people want small, independent cinemas.

"I think the first movie I saw there was one of the Star Wars films but I can also remember seeing the Care Bears Movie. The thing about going to the Curzon was that you always feared that you wouldn't be able to get in. There would be a queue around it and you'd get to the end of it and hope that you'd still be able to get a seat."

When the Curzon's projectors stopped rolling for the final time, Orla says it was only years later that she lamented the loss. "Really at the time, sadly, I didn't think much about it closing. It was only when I opened my own coffee shop years later on the Ormeau Road that it hit me what a loss it was.

"The Ormeau Road has changed massively, and a lot for the better, but sometimes change isn't for the better and we lose things that can't be replaced. And that's the Curzon."

Meanwhile, the project's documentary producer, Sara Gunn-Smith - whose first film she can remember seeing at the Curzon was Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - reveals that there are plans under way for the film to be brought to a wider audience.

"It's been submitted into a few film festivals and hopefully will be shown at the Belfast Film Festival next year.

"We also want to screen it some where on the Ormeau Road after that."

And it's the coming together of people that Orla says is what, ultimately, made the Curzon more unique and special, compared to the modern day movie-going experience.

"It was more than just a building, it was a place full of character. It had a soul," she added.

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