In the vast open space of Chapter Arts Café/Bar in Canton, Cardiff, a myriad of film posters to one side and a palpable din of cultural enthusiasm from the other, I sit with Tom, creator and organiser of Darkened Rooms; screening great films in unusual places since 2012. Their first two presentations, The Shining at The Angel Hotel in February and Alien at Techniquest in June have been a resounding success.
Darkened Rooms started this year, what was your drive to do so?
It’s not a hugely original idea. In London and New York and lots of other cities there’s this kind of pop-up cinema movement. So it’s another version of that really. It was just a combination of a fun thing to do and it felt like there was an appetite for it. I had a bit of experience doing Q&As here at Chapter and short film nights and knowing that people like it when there’s something a bit weird or theatrical about the way you show it. It’s the same way with audiences as well. Once you come and tell them approximately what we’re doing, they come and say “Oh, you could do this, and Oo, you could do that” it starts kind of steamrolling from there and so even though we’ve only done two different events so far and got another one booked in already there’s twenty-five events we could do or fifty in terms of what people tweeted us or emailed to us.
So what would you say is your favourite idea from the audiences so far?
Sometimes they’re really fun ideas that would only entertain about six people, but those six would have an amazing time. Or really expensive ones, like doing Shutter Island, on an island. And you think “That’d be great” but tickets would have to be like £80! It’s difficult to pick a favourite, and I don’t know if I would want to say it as we might do it!
Mystique is better?
Yeah. So, there is been a lot of good ones and it’s interesting just seeing what people are in to, they’re pretty diverse. Early on, scary movies and really funny movies are very good to start with because the ones where you feel the crowd reaction and also there’s something very tangible about being somewhere unusual that changes the way the audience reacts. People have suggested subtitled films, films from more than fifty years old, very recent ones, so it’s been fun hearing all the different ideas.
The two you’ve done already, The Shining at the Angle Hotel and Alien at Techniquest, both had fantastic atmospheres and the venues complimented that.
With The Shining, that was the only one we originally considered because it’s one of the oldest hotels in Cardiff and it’s got a lot of atmosphere, it had this great forum space that plays with key scenes within the film itself. And with Techniquest the link, we said, was that it was Cardiff’s centre of scientific discovery, so it was kind of odd this combination of people in their 20s, and more in their 30s and 40s just going around playing with all the exhibits and then going off and being terrified in the theatre. So, going ahead, sometimes we will be very specific to the venue itself and sometimes it’ll be more to do with what we do with the venue and the things you do within it. It’ll be a mix. We’re going back to the Angel for the net screening for this New York night and that’s more to do with how we’re presenting the New York content than it being inherently New York-y.
As for the films already screened, why those two?
It’s a weird thing that the first three features we’re showing are The Shining, Alien and Manhattan. And all three were made within a year of my birth. They’re all 1979/1980, but I think that’s just coincidence. We always wanted to start with The Shining because i’s a really good sell, we knew that people would be really into it and when we announced it, tickets went really quick which was brilliant. Any time you do something new you’re concerned that the world will not be as keen on it as you are. But thankfully people were really into it. The Shining was great, and it’s just a really good film, I really like it. And Alien, obviously, is a great film and a classic, and this year there was so much talk about it with Prometheus that it kind of just made sense to do it around the same time. Manhattan was more that we just wanted to do something that wasn’t a scary movie so that it expanded what people thought of the series and something that was kind of classy and upscale for the hotel. It has just been remastered for Blu-ray so I knew we could get a good quality copy and I love New York as a city and a film location and we could get a lot of supporting material. There will probably be more recent films and older films in future events as well.
And how do you define a great film?
That’s a really good question. The films I love are really different. I really like Alien, I really like When Harry Met Sally as well. I think it’s if it succeeds on its own terms, if it asks a question does it answer that question? Is every aspect of it contributing to that whole? There’s no answer really. There’re films that I love that may not be considered classics and there are classics I admire but I don’t love. Those two so far seemed to have pretty much got it. If you hit on the right ones, which I think we’ve been lucky so far, then that choice is the engine for all of it. People aren’t going because they want to see me present something, they’re going because they really love that film. It’s not all films, there are films that were hits five years ago that no one early talks about anymore, but these films are over thirty years old so clearly they do last. You can tell, subconsciously, that they’ve stuck around.
We’ve already mentioned Chapter. How beneficial has the partnership with Chapter been to Darkened Rooms?
It’s been terrific! They’ve always been incredibly nice to me. I’ve been doing the film night, Chapter Movie Maker, which is a monthly short film night that I think I’ve been hosting since about 2003 and they’ve always been supportive, even when it wasn’t the most popular event in the calendar. Thankfully things have improved a bit. Chapter’s reputation is great for supporting interesting events and they do a lot of things in the theatre department and is well known also. They’ve got a great marketing reach and enthusiasm for doing it. When you get Chapter staff involved, they’re passionate about films and it’s worked out pretty well as a partnership.
You’ve already got Manhattan coming up. Are your plans just short term at the moment, or do you have plenty of screenings in the pipeline for the future?
We can’t talk of them. It sounds so cagey saying that but we’re always thinking of potential venues. Whenever I’m anywhere that’s a half-decent sized space I’m thinking “what movie could I put on in here?” and “where would I put the screen and the chairs?” We’ve got things in the pipeline, both for Cardiff and slightly outside but I can’t be any more specific than that. We’re not going to go down the Secret Cinema route of actually keeping the film titles secret. They’ve done a great job of that, but we’re going to announce the films we do and where we’re going to do them. We want to do mixes of one-offs and runs. It was nice doing two nights of Alien, if there’s sufficient demand like that. With The Shining I made a trailer for it and so we plugged that around a lot. We got Matt Needle, who does brilliant film posters, to create some lovely adverts for us and that’s great, we can stick them in the Chapter foyer and use them online as well. I don’t want to assume everything will always be as popular as Alien, but it’d be great if we could keep that enthusiasm going.
And what do you think the future of cinema and how it’s distributed is going to be?
The quality you get at home is phenomenal now. It’s not really a question anymore of getting an inferior experience at home, you’re going to get a pretty good one if you have a good set up. Clearly, people really like, under the right circumstances, watching a film with a lot of other people. Alien at Techniquest was a quite cosy space, and they do like that. People just get burnt out on watching films with poor presentation, terrible adverts, the same Orange pre-screen bit and people checking their phones and rustling popcorn. The stuff everyone rails against, or ticket prices. I could just watch these films at home there’s lots of ways for me to see them, but you want to share them and share that experience. Going forward, I’m agnostic about 3D. I’ve enjoyed it at times, I thought it was one of the aspects of Prometheus that did work. But I’ve just seen a preview of Spiderman and thought it had no need for it to be in 3D. I thought I was going to love it in 3D and it would really work. It could have been because I had to sit relatively close to the screen but I found the swinging sequences less exhilarating than in Spiderman 1 and 2, which were in 2D. I don’t really remember 3D either. I have this problem with music gigs, I enjoy them in the moment but I don’t have great recall. I’m learning that my recall is both visual, and 2-dimensional. Overall, I feel the move will be to home entertainment but people love seeing films in groups and things like IMAX are a great format.
Manhattan will be screening at The Angel Hotel in Cardiff on Monday 2nd July 2012. For tickets visit http://www.chapter.org/27344.html. You can find more information at www.darkenedrooms.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DarkenedRooms) or follow them on Twitter (@DarkenedRooms).