Rural Scottish cinemas get Hollywood treatment

What We Did On Our Holidays has been successful in rural locations. Picture: PA
What We Did On Our Holidays has been successful in rural locations. Picture: PA
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DIGITAL technology is helping to revive the bygone days of the town picture house by bringing the latest Hollywood blockbusters to small Scottish rural communities.

Across Scotland, satellite and superfast broadband internet technology is being combined with the latest digital projectors and tablet systems to give far-flung communities access to films the same week that they come out in city centre cinemas.

At the push of a button, movies or recordings of theatre productions can now be sent electronically to a projector’s hard drive and even operated remotely using a tablet computer, removing the expense and difficulties associated with screening 35mm reels.

At the forefront of developing the technology to deliver this long-distance movie experience is French business Ymagis. The company’s senior vice president Manel Carreras, said: “Where there are small, less-visited cinemas that service small communities, it becomes crucial for them.”

Rob Arthur re-opened the Thurso Cinema in 2012 using the Ymagis system, and is currently setting up a network of five linked cinemas across the country.

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He said: “Thurso cinema had shut in 2009, despite having received a lot of Scottish Arts Council funding. It failed originally because it could only show one or two films a week on 35mm film.

“With satellite, we can now download films directly to Thurso at the same time as everybody else in Europe, or using Highland and Islands-funded super-fast broadband to take films on the network. We’ve also got Sony Digital Cinema who put the projectors in, which are as good as anywhere else, the studios have helped to fund that.”

Arthur said that, despite the popularity of cinema-going in Scotland, there was a lack of screens outside city centres.

The flexibility of the technology, which allows varied programmes to run throughout the day, has helped to give new life to cinemas at risk of permanent closure.

In the case of The Picture House in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland’s oldest continuously run, purpose-built cinema, the community brought in digital projectors and through a combination of movies and theatrical events boosted attendance by 40 per cent, proving its viability.

Ron Inglis, an independent cinema consultant, said: “The idea of a small town cinema showing half a dozen different new releases in the course of a week means that cinema from a film point of view is reaching six different audiences. Add in cafe or bistro and it becomes more of a community hub.”

Though the projects are expensive to install, costing £30,000 to £50,000 each, the low staffing numbers needed to operate them on-site and flexible long-lease contracts make the technology affordable for small communities.