My last seminar of the day ran over time. With ten minutes to cycle from campus to town in torrential rain, I was not particularly enthusiastic.
Drenched from head to toe, Sam Robinson of 1331 greets me with a smile and offers me a drink. We take a seat next to two budding filmmakers to chat a little before the evening screening of The Exorcist in the bar’s attic, where he has recently opened Brandy Brown’s Little Cinema. Sam fills me in on the history of Brandy Brown’s, describing his disdain for the usual cinemagoing experience: the rustle of popcorn, the slurping of straws and the general disrespect of fellow audience members. The ultimate experience that Brandy Brown’s tries to offer, Sam describes, is one of comfort.
One look around and you can see what he means. A room of 20 reclining seats, arm rests on each side and a miniature table for bar bought drinks and food; a veritable first-class cinema experience. But wouldn’t the chomping and crunching take away from Sam’s goals? Not so much. Each meal has been designed for minimal disruption – I indulged myself with a delicious small bowl of vegetable chilli with a wooden fork causing next to no clatter. For a top-up, by just putting up your hand you can get a new drink instantaneously.
Offering classic films and ones that might have passed you by in the cinema, the variety is truly eclectic. But does Sam really feel that York needs a cinema like this when going upagainst cinematic mainstays by the likes of City Screen, Vue and Reel? Absolutely. York is a quirky city with a great deal of history, which he sees the building as encompassing, having once been a potter’s and dressmaker’s on a street that, Sam gleefully imparts, was once named “Grope Cunt Lane” after the kind of trade that one could expect to find there.
The quirkiness is certainly maintained through the big events. “Big Lebowski day” involved a game of bowling followed by White Russians at the bar before the screening of the film, whereas a showing of Happy Gilmore had half the audience dozing off, having already played nine rounds of golf. Additionally, the cinema has been booked out with sporting events for American clients missing a little taste of home, as well as catering for stag and hen nights. Coming soo, the cinema hopes to introduce gaming nights to fans of Fifa 11 and Call of Duty wanting to play on the 3 metre wide screen.
Despite the successes of Brandy Brown’s, it is difficult for them to predict the level of interest in the different films they offer. Only two people turned up to a screening of Raging Bull last week, and yet a Halloween screening of [●REC] speedily sold out. Having paid for screening rights, there’snext to no budget for publicity, leaving it up to the bar’s window, Facebook and word of mouth to do the work. I ask Sam what’s kept him going. “Perseverance.”
On a wider scale, Robinson is a believer in York’s potential as a creative force. He introduces me to Tony and Miles of York based production company Milestone Films, with whom he is working on a collaboration for a feature-length film. We move on to the subject of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival that will be taking place in November, and why something of this scale has seldom been attempted before. Sam feels the council is too strict on what can and can’t happen in the city, that it should just sit back and let things happen. York has the same charm, albeit on a smaller scale, that Edinburgh has to attract thousands to its festivals each year.
But regardless of just how much a Little Cinema can bring to the creative life of a city, Brandy Brown’s is at the very least a delightful treat for a quiet night out, making for a truly unique cinema experience in York.