The Byre Theatre, Scotland’s only 5 star arts venue, last night launched its first full film programme – an achievement long in the making. It has taken eleven years for the Theatre to realise a goal first aimed at when the current lottery-funded building was opened, and despite a hugely problematic financial climate for the arts industry in Britain, local and national funding as well as a partnership with St Andrews’ Film Studies department have enabled an exciting season of art cinema to begin in earnest.
Patrons and invitees were treated to a champagne reception before a special screening of the new digitally remastered edition of Chariots of Fire, selected for its obvious connections to the town and resonance with this Olympic summer. A special recorded message from the film’s producer, Lord David Puttnam, was played before the film, in which he said there was “nothing more fitting” than the Byre beginning its relationship with film by screening one of cinema’s most iconic moments, filmed only a few hundred metres away on West Sands.
The film looked crisp and sharp on a massive screen newly installed in the A.B Paterson auditorium, whilst the sound from a fully digital Dolby surround set-up was powerful and gave real dramatic weight to key moments; particularly that famous beach run. Reductions in the cost of digital cinema technology have allowed the Byre to fully equip not only the main house, but significantly they have renovated the Lawrence Levy Studio, offering a 60 seat cinema with removable leather arm chairs. Speaking at the launch, both CEO Jacqueline McKay and Chairman Frank Quinault were keen to stress that the Byre remains “a theatre first and foremost”, and that this cinematic expansion should be seen to compliment and enhance the arts programme already available. That both auditoriums remain capable of housing non-cinematic performances should allay any fears that St Andrews stands to lose out on staged drama and dance.
But what should be stressed is the ambition of the theatre and its partners to create an experience which will only strengthen St Andrews artistically. Again, both chairman and CEO suggested that this programme of art cinema should not be seen as a challenge to the New Picture House, but rather as an addition to the scope of film available locally. PhD students from the Film department have helped to sculpt three seasons, each of four films, running between September and December. These include recent American Indie films like Sean Penn’s Into The Wild and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, to Latin American cinema including last years Juan of the Dead and perhaps lesser known Balkan films like Morgen, for which director Marian Crisan will be hosting a Q & A.
There will also be a season of films in support of the RNLI beginning next week, ranging from classics like Mutiny on the Bounty to Titanic. Perhaps most excitingly for regular theatre-goers, a subscription to the National Theatre Live service means that the Byre can broadcast a selection of plays live from London, including the new theatrical adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which has sold out its run in the capital already.
Full details of the programme are available on the Byre’s website. St Andrews has been crying out for an art cinema venue for some time, particularly given the international element of the University staff and student population and the advent of the Film department in recent years. Perhaps in one of the town’s oldest arts establishments, this can finally be achieved. As ever, The Saint will bring you previews and reviews of the films as they come, so you won’t miss out.