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"I'm Just so Disappointed"

Students, faculty, and locals rally together at cinema sit-in protest

A-listers Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake are moving forward with their transformation of St Andrews’ beloved New Picture House cinema into a luxury sports bar, despite receiving fierce criticism from town residents. But locals, students, and faculty still hold out hope that their voices will be heard. 

On Sunday 11 February, dozens flocked to the New Picture House to demonstrate against the planned transformation in a peaceful sit-in protest. Ash Curry-Machado — a fourth year Film Studies student and curator of St Andrews Film Festival— organised the initiative as part of his ‘Save our Cinema’ campaign. The campaign, which began with a petition in October, has now gained over 11,800 signatures. 

Curry-Machado aimed to sell out seats and compile photographs and videos of attendees as evidence of the cinema’s popularity. He then plans to send the documentation to MP for North East Fife Wendy Chamberlain ahead of her two meetings with Nexus Luxury Collection and the local councillors, where they will discuss approving the development plans. 

Though Curry-Machado didn’t reach his ambitious goal of completely selling out each of the day’s nine screenings, cinema staff noted that the screens were much busier than a usual Sunday, with residents and visitors alike keen to show their support. 

As they joined the queue for tickets on their way in, or tossed away empty popcorn bags on their way out, The Saint spoke to some of the cinema-goers on Sunday about their decision to attend the protest and their thoughts on the potential transformation. 

“I usually go to the Odeon in Dunfermline, but I came specifically today to try and support the cinema,” said Cecelia Duval, who lives in Kirkcaldy.

Duval made the trip to St Andrews with her friend Mari Herbet, who lives in Anstruther. The pair said that since there are no cinemas in their towns, they have grown accustomed to travelling to different locations to get their fix of film. They agreed that St Andrews residents shouldn’t have to do the same. 

If the cinema undergoes the transformation, St Andrews’ residents will have to make the trip to Dundee to catch screenings of the latest releases. Residents say that this would be a huge inconvenience.

Rita Farragher — a local school teacher who has been following the campaign for months since she first signed the petition — highlighted the difficulty this would pose for families.

“I work in a school, so I know that all the kids come here all the time every holiday,” she said. “It's quite unreasonable for parents to have to go to Dundee.” 

Farragher also shared her frustration at the prospect of another bar replacing the cinema.

“The very last thing St Andrews needs is another pub,” she said. “I'm just so disappointed (…) we really, desperately need this cinema.’

 Many others feel the same. 

For Brandon Liston-Smith — a fifth-year Mathematics student — and Selma Bystrand Straumits — a third-year Ancient History student — the New Picture House serves as a frequent date night venue. They noted that it’s one of the only evening activities in the town that doesn’t involve alcohol. 

“Typically you can only go for a drink,” Straumits said. “You can't really do anything like this.”

They believe it's just another part of St Andrews — like local housing and independent shops — that will be lost to the town’s golfing and tourism industries. 

“It's just another way for the town to be taken by tourists,” Liston-Smith said.

Milo Farragher-Hanks — a PhD student and tutor in the University's Department of Film Studies — described the closing of the cinema as “catastrophic” to both the local community and also to Film Studies students, who take classes in the cinema’s neighbouring Film Studies building.

“St Andrews prides itself on having a world class film department, and would it not be an absurdity for us to be selling ourselves on that if our town does not have a cinema?” Farragher-Hanks said. 

He pointed out that the closing of the cinema may discourage prospective Film Studies students from considering St Andrews as a university option. 

“When I first visited this place, I was about 16 or 17, looking to do Film Studies. If they had been telling me, ‘This is the place you want to come if you want to study film,’ but the place didn’t have a working cinema, that would put me off,” he said. “That would be discouraging to me.”

David Morris — owner of the New Picture House — told The Scotsman that a key part of his decision to strike a deal with Woods and Timberlake was that the cinema has recently been operating at 10% its capacity. Despite this statistic, many of its cinema-goers argued that the New Picture House could strive harder to engage with the local community and consequently increase its attendance. 

Liston-Smith and Straumits insisted that the cinema could make a much bigger effort to bring in more students to the cinema. They proposed organising discounted student screenings, collaborating with film societies, or hosting themed cocktail nights. Straumits suggested that they screen classics and have “throwback nights” for popular films. 

“For instance, you know, if they had a Clueless night or they had a 10 Things I Hate About You night,” said Straumits.

Curry-Machado referenced the cinema at Dundee Contemporary Arts as a notable example of how to attract crowds by showing a wider variety of films. On his most recent visit to the Dundee cinema, Curry Machado saw All of Us Strangers at a sold-out screening. 

“I got the last seat,” he said.

If the New Picture House made improvements, he added, they could sell out, too.

“It's really down to their programming,” he said. “I think if the cinema were to work a lot more with engaging with the community here, they would see a massive increase in revenue and, of course, profits which they’re citing [as] their main cause for wanting this investment.” 

When the final crowd of cinema-goers filed out of the New Picture House, Curry-Machado reflected on the protest and the impact it could have.

“I absolutely think this will make a difference,” he said. 

Though attempts are currently being made to negotiate a single screening operator, Curry-Machado believes this compromise is “a huge joke.” He argues that the council should push forward a complete rejection of the luxury sports bar.

“I don’t think it would be about negotiating a compromise, because we are seeing that their current compromise simply would not allow our cinema to continue thriving,” he said. “It would be just completely overshadowed by the business.”

But ultimately, the final decision is out of Curry-Machado’s hands. Instead, it’s dependent on the success of MP Wendy Chamberlain’s upcoming discussions. She made an appearance at the cinema earlier that day, he noted. 

“What we’re doing today will have a massive influence on how she approaches the meeting and what she's able to negotiate with them,” he said.

And when asked what he would say if he were in Chamberlain’s shoes, Curry-Machado had a straightforward answer. He would ask Nexus Luxury Collection a simple question: “Why the cinema? Why not somewhere else in St Andrews? Why does it have to be this space?” 

Photo: Zainab Haji


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