Cubists' renaissance - reel deal for Stokes Croft cinema
David Clensy visits the atmospheric arts cinema which still shows films using old projection techniques and meets the volunteers hoping to raise the cash to preserve the venue
YOU would be forgiven for not even spotting the Cube from the street in the daytime. The arts cinema is buried deep behind a wall covered in "street art" in a Stokes Croft back alley.
I knock on the door and make my way down a long, very dark corridor. Stumble up a few steps, past a dimly lit bar, and find myself, rather surprisingly, in a sizeable auditorium.
The rows of red velvet seats may have seen better days, and the draft coming down from the void above the screen may be biting, but there is something tremendously evocative about the auditorium of the Cube.
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When you walk in to the arthouse cinema for the first time, there is almost a sense that you have stumbled upon one of Bristol's best kept secrets. Graeme Hogge, the 45-year-old artist who is the last remaining founder member of the collective that set up the cinema in 1998, says it has always had that sense of being a fringe venue.
"We've always been a bit different, a bit radical, a bit hidden away," he tells me as he leads the way into the projection room – no soulless digital projection boxes here, the place is filled with stacked tins of 35mm film, just the sort of thing you want to see in a projection room.
For 14 years the venue, located near King Square, has been popular with a niche audience – whether for its film showings, or as a small venue for live music and theatrical events. With 150 volunteers, led by a core of 25 devotees, the Cube has ticked along modestly for more than a decade.
But when the building's landlord decided it was time to rearrange his portfolio last year, he gave the group the option of buying the property – it means they have until December to find the £185,000 needed to buy the building. Graeme and his fellow Cubists leapt into action – setting up Ben-Com, a community benefit company and industrial provident society, afforded charity-like tax status.
Ben-Com will purchase the building on behalf of the Cube, and will run it as an arts venue in perpetuity. But first there is the small matter of finding the £185,000.
"Our regulars have been very generous," Graeme says. "We have already had £10,000 of private donations towards the fund, and we're starting to plan a number of big benefit evenings throughout the year to try to raise the cash.
"But there are certainly angels out there in the city who want to see the Cube develop in the coming years – one individual sent us a cheque for £1,000. I think people understand that we provide something important artistically to the city."
Graeme and his team are also pinning a lot of hope – £90,000-worth of hope – on an Arts Council bid, for which they have just applied.
"The venue is more popular than it's ever been," he says. "We were having to turn people away on New Year's Eve. But if we owned the building, we could then save up to start improving the fabric of the building itself.
"It was built in the 1960s, and originally run by an amateur dramatics group as a community theatre – but that was long before modern building specifications came in, certainly in relation to disabled access, and we would like to be able to improve the access to the auditorium for people with restricted mobility."
As one of the projectionists at the cinema, Graeme also has a particular interest in the programming itself.
"Cinema in this country is being rapidly digitised. Around 80 per cent of the cinemas in the UK have now gone over to digital, and I think there is a danger of losing a big part of our cinema heritage as a result.
"A lot of the older and the more avant garde films are only available on 35mm, 16mm and 8mm – and that's the kind of stuff we're able to show. So in a way, we have become a kind of repository for film.
"Many of the big films now are not even produced on 35mm – they just go out to the cinemas digitally, which just shows you the extent to which cinemas are changing.
"I think its important to preserve the projection of proper film somewhere. We can't afford to go digital, but preserving 35mm projection is something we can do."
As part of the Cube's fundraising push, Graeme is hoping to initiate a monthly open day, when they will invite members of the public to visit the cinema during the day to find out more about the project.
"It's all going to be about engaging with people, because although we may seem quite niche, I think there is a surprising amount of affection for the Cube in Bristol – it's a true Bristol tradition, and that's something people in the city appreciate."
For more information about the cinema, visit the website at cubecinema.com