In celebration of the new Curzon Cinema opening at Goldsmiths University in New Cross and another cinema planned for Eltham, The Resident looks at south east London’s picture houses past, present and future
Words: Trish Lesslie
When Goldsmiths College and Curzon Cinemas joined forces to open Curzon Goldsmiths at the end of January, it marked the end of an unhappy era for cinema in Lewisham. Until the launch of the 101-seat venue in the college’s New Cross campus, the Borough of Lewisham had been without a major cinema since the Catford Cannon closed in 2002. In fact, until the recent opening, it was in the unenviable position of being the only London borough without a cinema.
It wasn’t always so. Back in the heyday of the silver screen in the 1930s there were over 20 venues showing films in the borough. From Lee to Lewisham, Brockley to Forest Hill, Deptford and New Cross, picture houses abounded. Some of them, like the Gaudi-influenced Obelisk, which sat on what is now the site of Lewisham’s main bus and rail station, were architectural gems. It could be argued that others, such as the monolithic art deco 3,000-seat Gaumont Palace (later the Odeon) on Loampit Vale, had rather less architectural merit. Regardless of their aesthetic values, just about all of these cinemas had disappeared without a trace by the later 1990s.
It seems fitting that Goldsmiths should be instrumental in bringing cinema back to Lewisham. The world-renowned college runs courses in filmmaking and counts Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen among its alumni
It seems fitting that Goldsmiths, which is part of the University of London, should be instrumental in bringing cinema back to Lewisham. The world-renowned college runs courses in filmmaking – teaching cinematography, editing and documentary-making – and counts Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen among its alumni. Other former students include Oscar-winning screenwriter Colin Welland (he won for Chariots of Fire) and Nowhere Boy and Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson.
‘From Oscar winners to the use of film in research and teaching across the university, we have a rich screen heritage,’ says Patrick Loughrey, warden of Goldsmiths. ‘Film has always brought people together, and this partnership with Curzon will help us share our love of cinema with the local community, London and the wider world.’
The new Curzon Goldsmiths is located a stone’s throw from what used to be the Gaumont New Cross, a cinema that once had a capacity of 2,000 and is now home to The Venue. Nearby on Deptford Broad, the Deptford Cinema opened last year as a not-for-profit venue entirely run by volunteers. The intimate 40-seat community cinema is located opposite the site of the old art deco Deptford Odeon (demolished in 1988). It screens a diverse range of films from Hollywood blockbusters to shorts by local filmmakers and everything in between. There’s a small café and bar, too.
‘Cinema should be for everybody,’ says Laura D’Asta of Deptford Cinema. ‘By offering tickets at £5 and even more affordable concession tickets we want to give the audience the opportunity to enjoy films in our cinema.’ Unlike commercial ventures, the cinema is able to engage with its audience in a more personal way. ‘By allowing everyone to suggest film screenings and live events, we can ensure eclectic programmes that showcase the diversity and interests of our community,’ Laura adds.
Over in Eltham, a six-screen cinema complex is on the way after the planning board of the Royal Borough of Greenwich approved plans for a 900-seat complex on the high street. Under the plans, the basement and first floor will each house three cinema screens, while there will be two restaurants on the ground floor.
It’s hoped the new cinema will spur on the wider regeneration of Eltham
Greenwich bought the key site – currently leased to Poundland – for development in the hope of creating new jobs, increasing high street spend and boosting the local economy. It’s also hoped the new cinema will spur on the wider regeneration of the area under the council’s Masterplan for Eltham. The project aims to enhance the local environment as a whole with improvements to pavements, roads and lighting, plus more landscaping, planting and open spaces in the area.
‘The new cinema and restaurant complex make sense for Eltham and it’s good news that we can now drive this development forward,’ says councillor Danny Thorpe, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills. ‘It will be a real plus for the people of Eltham and visitors alike,’ he adds.
Council leader Denise Hyland agrees the proposed cinema will help safeguard the long-term vitality and viability of area. ‘This scheme will make an important contribution to the local economy and to the borough’s cultural life,’ she says. ‘I am also delighted that this development will bring much-needed jobs to the area for local people.’
More detailed plans on the overall design are yet to be finalised, but the opening of Curzon Goldsmiths and the fact that a six screen cinema is on the way are welcome proof that the renaissance of the silver screen has begun in earnest – in Lewisham and Eltham, at least.