What’s driving Manchester’s cinema boom?

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Tobias Soar uncovers why Manchester is the place to be for indie cinemas and cinephiles alike

Under the grey skies, on the streets of the beaten post-industrial landscape, Manchester is the birthplace of Joy Division, the Stone Roses, Oasis and the iconic ‘Madchester’ movement – wonderfully captured in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. While the musical revolution of the North isn’t quite what it used to be, a new cultural wave is rising with the recent boom of independent cinemas.

In the past year, a handful of cinemas have popped up: the Old Bank Residency, the Chapeltown Picturehouse, Cultureplex and, opening soon, a new branch of Everyman Cinemas. I reached out to the people running these cinemas, in addition to the well-established local favourite HOME, to try and understand why Manchester has become the location of choice for this little revolution. In doing so, I have come to discover that all these locations are after one thing: reinventing the community centre.


Neil Greenhalgh of the Old Bank Residency explained that NOMA, the new 20-acre development, wants to help create a collaborative neighbourhood. Through 60 workshops, 600 members of the public came together to physically build the cinema, from the welcome lounge to the seats themselves. In collaboration with Dogwoof, the Old Bank specialises in showing documentaries for their 12-month residency at the building, which used to be the original Co-Operative Bank.

While the Chapeltown Picturehouse hasn’t been built by the public, its programming has. Jason Bailey wants to open the doors of the Alamo Drafthouse-inspired Picturehouse to young curators and organisers, giving them a venue in which they can build their own original programming without the intimidating entry barrier some would find at already-established indie cinemas. This small cinema is truly by cinephiles, for cinephiles, as customers are greeted by rules of conduct – no phones, no food or drink in the cinema – written on a board which hangs next to the bar, stocked with ale and sodas from the local Squawk Brewing Co.


The more-than-a-cinema vision seems to be shared across the city, with Cultureplex aiming to offer a similar concept, albeit in a more upmarket environment. Situated in Ancoats, the same neighbourhood as the Chapeltown Picturehouse, Cultureplex’s cinema room seats 36 people in a room equipped with a 4K projector. However, to reach this room, guests are welcomed by an open ground floor with a cafe, bar, restaurant and co-working space all in one building. The presentation gives off a ‘hard-working millennial’ vibe, with its minimalist design choices, from the furniture to their social media presence.

Much like the Old Bank and the Picturehouse, Cultureplex aims to collaborate with aspiring filmmakers, programmers and everyone between, as their space becomes a playground for creative minds.

To gather the perspective of a well-established local cinema and cultural hub – which also collaborates with Cultureplex by working together on their original programming – I spoke to Jason Wood of HOME. The Creative Director of Film and Culture for the venue knows the cinema scene inside and out; when asked if he sees other cinemas as competition or as other participants in the local cinema he said that “I think the programme at HOME will be very different, and I am not sure that we are competing for the same market or demographic. That said, it’s all about the audience, so giving them choice is a good thing. It’s all about celebrating the diversity of film culture and the vibrancy of the moving images so new cinemas in a great city like Manchester is to be welcome.”

It’s this collaborative attitude that stuck out to me from every conversation I had; seeing Manchester as an opportunistic landscape for developing novel and interesting cultural conversations through film is what seems to be driving the new cinema boom.

With the rising number of streaming services coming to the market in the next year comes an overwhelming amount of films and TV shows to choose from, as well as a feeling of isolation, as these platforms are ultimately meant for use at home, on a television, laptop or even phone screen. These new cinemas are both a response and an antidote to this trend, remedying choice anxiety with curation and enriching discourse by encouraging consumers of culture to participate in it.

Unfortunately, bringing this concept to fruition is proving to be a challenge for cinema owners. Despite there being a small demand for these types of spaces, further demand needs to be generated by offering them to the public, as Jason Bailey explained to me. The current location for the Chapeltown Picturehouse is temporary, as they hope to move to a larger, permanent location when (and if) the pace picks up. Such is the case of the Old Bank residency which, as the name suggests, is a temporary project – though it could become permanent if there’s enough demand for it.


That said, calling these spaces ‘cinemas’ seems to be quite limiting. The traditional ideal of what a cinema is or should be is now antiquated. A couple of screens preceded by a carpeted lobby makes cinemas a single-use location, whereas these new cinemas don’t just offer a space to create in, the very existence of their laid-back areas is welcoming and cosy.

Cinemas can now be a place to commune, to work, to expand on films beyond their runtime with talks, exhibits and workshops – the sky’s the limit. Manchester’s cinema scene has been close to a surge thanks to HOME and event screenings by the likes of Manchester Classic Films, or festivals such as Grimmfest, MANIFF and the Manchester Animation Festival (to name a few) – but these new cinemas might just be the tipping point that cinephiles of the area have been waiting for.

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