A cinema for the community

Monday 25th May, 2015

By

Showing both small films and Hollywood blockbusters, Upstart meets the man who turned a Salvation Army hall into a cinema.

Nestled amid the artisanal cafés and boutiques of north London’s Crouch End sits The ArtHouse, a cinematic microcosm of the area’s self-aware, artistically designed world. Housed in a green-turretted former Salvation Army hall, the multi-use venue showcases live performances and film, screening both independent productions and big budget blockbusters.

The ArtHouse Cinema, on Tottenham Lane in London's Crouch End

With distressed wood tables and a stock of locally brewed craft beer, The ArtHouse’s bespoke feel is a far cry from the gormless multiplexes lining London’s high streets. But the venue’s commitment to the locally sourced and carefully curated goes beyond snacks and high end tables.

Since opening in May 2014, The Arthouse has committed itself to community-driven programming reflective of London’s diversity. It is free from the release commitments of chain-run cinemas, and just celebrated its one year anniversary with a support system of more a thousand members.

“The idea of having an arts center that adapted to and challenged its audience was our dream,” says George Georgiou, an actor-cum-businessman who founded ArtHouse together with cinema director Sam Neophytou. A north London native of Greek heritage, Georgiou found himself continually sent into auditions for roles playing “either the shopkeeper or the terrorist”. He channeled his frustration into ArtHouse, establishing “a creative home for good work that explored and reflected the real stories and experiences of a community”.

Unless you can understand where your community are coming from, you're not going to be able to programme things that challenge them.

Georgiou and Neophytou knew that securing an arts grant to get the project off the ground could take years, so they looked to the community for support in financing the project. “We used our own money, but we really saw the funds pour in from the area’s residents,” says Georgiou. When they were approached with a financing deal by the cinema chain Curzon, they opted to stay independent.

“We just felt that we needed to create our own identity before teaming up with a major force in the world of cinema,” Georgiou says. Today, ArtHouse screens films from Curzon’s distribution strand Artificial Eye (behind 2013’s Academy Award winner Amour and this year’s The Cloud of Sils Maria), but Neophytou and Georgiou still choose all of ArtHouse’s material for themselves.

“We programme with a culturally diverse objective,” explains Georgiou. On screens this month is Girlhood, a coming-of-age drama chronicling an all-girl gang in Paris’s banlieue estates starring four female leads, Force Majeure, a psychodrama telling the story of a model Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the Alps, and a retrospective of Horace Ové, the first black British director of a feature-length film.

Photo: Richard Chivers

“Unless you can understand where your community are coming from, you're not going to be able to programme the kind of things that are going to challenge them. And if you’re not doing that, what’s point?”, asks Georgiou. “Our goal is to have audiences leaving the cinema feeling challenged, or moved, or - at the very least - differently than the did before coming in”.

Georgiou is committed to bringing the same human-driven approach into his managerial style. “The ArtHouse staff are the most important aspect of our business,” he explains. “They, after all, dictate what a customer’s experience will be outside of the darkness of the movie theatre and what separates us from the faceless organisations that currently house art. We pay all our staff the London Living Wage and were the first cinema to do so. It’s staff and community loyalty that allow us to take risks and show projects that may have lower profit turnovers, so above all they’re the people we value. The ultimate goal of ArtHouse is to create an environment that helps cinemas to reclaim a place at the heart of their communities and be centres for meaningful social influence.”