Neil and I had the pleasure of taking a Heritage tour of the strand arts centre which is in East Belfast. We had been involved in a fundraising campaign they had run to save their 35mm projector called Beethoven and Following this we were invited along to a Heritage tour of the cinema. The tour was lead By the amazing Alan who has worked at the cinema as a projectonist for over 10 years and I have to say his enthusiasm for the cinema, the history and conservation of the strand was completely infectious
We started off the tour in the lobby of the cinema with a walk down memory lane of the strand. It was first opened in 1935, Alan showed us some wonderful pictures of what the cinema looked like at this point. The cinema now has 4 screens however back then it had only one.
The concession stand in the Strand… sweet and salted??
We learned about the first film that was ever shown in the cinema which was Bright Eyes starring Shirley Temple. Alans passion for the cinema was evident throughout the tour, the way he talked about the films, the building and the history inspiring. The cinema was built by John McBride Neill who was the architect who built the Curzon cinema on the Ormeau road and the Tonic in Bangor county down, the Building was influenced by its proximity to the shipyard Harland and Wolff. The strand itself features curved walls and porthole decorations throughout the building, coupled with its art deco theme the strand is a wonder of architecture
The strand arts Centre
On the tour we were treated to a history of the cinema and the surrounding areas, including lots of personal stories of Alan’s and stories others had shared with him. After the tour of the lobby we headed into screen one. This is a screen we had been in several times before and it is a beautiful room with some beautiful seating and a stage. Alan told us about some of the original features of the room including some of the signage and the clock, he said it no longer works but is absolutely beautiful. The room is the main stands of the original screen and is just such a beautiful room, they have some of the original seats in the room including some couples seats which don’t have an armrest between them.
The carpet in the cinema is just so beautiful, it is red with images of famous stars on it such as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, It is quirky and gives such amazing character to the foyer and screens.
The Strand as Is no longer just a cinema it is an arts centre and they take part in so many community events, the Belfast film festival and east side arts festival to name but a few. They also host events, special screenings and have so many amazing events on throughout the year.
Neil and I have been to a few special screenings there, the first one was a screening of The Big Lebowski, however the one that sticks in my memory was the special screening of Mulholland drive we saw earlier this year, when we got to the front of the line we told the man at the counter we had tickets booked, he told us to head on up and the girl had a list of names so off we headed and she showed us into the screen. It was a little odd as there were so many people there, David lynch is a favourite director of Neil’s, however he isn’t exactly the most well-known of directors so we were surprised to see such a full screen. As the moments passed we begun to realise that we were not in the showing for Mulholland drive but in a clairvoyant show …. As it begun we got up and left, slightly embarrassingly as we were in the middle of the full row! We then went into the right screen and it was filled with seven other people, which is more the number we had expected! I told Alan this story on the tour and he laughed and said “you’d think she would have known, being a psychic”
We do genuinely love the Strand and go there as often as we can, each year we always try to see an alternative Christmas film, last year we saw Batman Returns in the strand, As odd as it sounds I love the feeling of East Belfast at Christmas, especially on a cold night when you can cycle or have a walk, the Belmont road, the strand, the C. S Lewis square, it all just has that feeling of Christmas you cannot put into words, I do kind of get the sensation of Narnia when I am there at Christmas however I think that is more my wild imagination coupled with a crazy love of Christmas
The feel of the strand is like no other cinema, it is unique and beautiful. I won’t give away to many spoilers of the tour as it is something I think everyone should do, especially if you have an interest in cinema and the history of the strand. They have so many plans for the future for renovation and change to modernise but keeping the history of the cinema alive. There is nowhere else like it in Northern Ireland and I feel it is something we should all work towards keeping alive.
This post is not in any way sponsored by the Strand arts Center, but is fueled by our love of cinema, its history and future, you can visit their website at www.strandartscenter.com or on their Facebook page to find out about their screenings, what’s on and all about the cinema. You can book heritage tours too and also learn about the plans they have for the future and how you can help the strand live on for generations.