Dying art of the projectionist alive and well in Leeds as cinema celebrates centenary

Allan Foster, chief projectionist at Hyde Park Picture House, at work at the historic cinema. Picture by James Hardisty.
Allan Foster, chief projectionist at Hyde Park Picture House, at work at the historic cinema. Picture by James Hardisty.
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The enduring success of one of Leeds’ most loved cinemas has much to do with the skilled technicians who have turned lifeless film reels into performance for the last 100 years.

The art of the projectionist is still alive and well at the Hyde Park Picture House, in Brudenell Road, which celebrated its centenary during ‘A Night at the Cinema in 1914’ event yesterday, as it continues to run two old fashioned projectors alongside automated digital machinery.

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Allan Foster, who has been chief projectionist at the Picture House for 15 years, has honed his skills over half a century at cinemas across Leeds and Bradford, manually controlling everything from lighting and sound to the film reels and curtains.

Having worked in Armley’s old Lyric Cinema, in Tong Road, for 10 years until its 1988 closure, the 70-year-old is the long-time custodian of the Picture House’s projectors and has trained up the current staff of four other projectionists.

Allan, who also used to work as an electronics engineer, said: “It’s nice to be able to pass on those skills, the youngest projectionist is 22 and has been doing it for two years. They are all very keen and enthusiastic, we all are – we all have a passion for film.”

After adapting to the challenges of an evolving industry, including the transition to sound, the competition from television and the multiplex boom, the Picture House was saved from closure by Leeds City Council in 1989. Now screening a mixture of classic film, art-house, world cinema and independent film, Allan and his team pride themselves on being able to show everything from 16mm films to digitised epics in Hyde Park alongside the city’s other heritage cinema in Cottage Road, Headingley.

“While we have still got nine gas lights, we have kept up with modern technology,” he said.

General manager Wendy Cook feels the longevity of the venue owes much to its 30 volunteers and 15 paid staff. She added: “They are essentially our ambassadors, they’re an incredibly patient and energetic bunch.”

FILM FESTIVAL EVENTS AT HYDE PARK PICTURE HOUSE

The Hyde Park Picture House is one of the core venues for this year’s Leeds International Film Festival.

Involving more than 250 screenings all over the city from November 5 to 20, the 28th annual festival will bring a whole host of varied films to the Picture House this month.

Among those is the showing of the ‘Last Laugh’, a silent film dating back to 1924 which will be screened with a live piano accompaniment tomorrow from 3pm.

Scottish songwriter Edwyn Collins will also attend and speak at a screening of the 2014 film ‘The Possibilities are Endless’, which depicts his journey back from having a stroke and two haemorrhages to language, music, life and love, on November 13 from 8.30pm.

Visit www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk or www.leedsfilm.com for further information.

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