26 Apr 19
In 1989 – a year where Bill and Ted embarked on an Excellent Adventure, Tom Cruise was Born on The Fourth Of July and Michael J. Fox went Back To The Future for a second time – two British powerhouses were also established, and would change the way that audiences see film forever.
2019 marks the 30th birthdays of Picturehouse Cinemas and Empire magazine, brands that have shaped movie-going across generations. The pair are partnering up for a series of 30 screenings that celebrate some of the most adventurous film-makers working today – from James Cameron to Ava DuVernay – and will hit Picturehouse screens across the country throughout the year.
For Picturehouse, the journey started three decades ago with the opening of its first cinema, the Phoenix in Oxford. Now it operates across 25 cinemas (and counting) and programmes a further 40 venues across the UK. Joint managing director Clare Binns has been building up the brand for 18 years, rising through the ranks from box-office assistant to become a key figure in film exhibition, with both the cinema group and its growing distribution arm, Picturehouse Entertainment.
"There have been quite a few momentous industry challenges as cinema has evolved over the years," she says. "But really, the core challenge and motivation for Picturehouse has always been how we continue to convince new audiences to take risks with their choices at the cinema. We want our customers to see and shout about the greatest in independent, foreign language, documentary and LGBTQ+ film with as much aplomb as they do about blockbusters which already have the financial backing and widespread marketing in place."
Empire's first issue went to print in the summer of '89 (boasting a young Dennis Quaid on the cover), and instantly gained a loyal fanbase that has grown considerably. Today, this pioneering brand has expanded to include the Empire podcast, the Empire Awards, live events and Pilot TV magazine, a new publication dedicated to the biggest and boldest small-screen releases. Editor-in-chief Terri White has been instrumental to the evolution of Empire since stepping into the role in 2015.
"We're still at our heart a magazine," explains White. "I'm a big believer in print; holding that magazine in my hand every month and smelling it – it's still for me the most beautiful experience that you can have, but it's important that we became a brand that connects with its audience over multiple touch points."
Like Binns, White stresses the importance of variety in the films that her audience can access via Empire, from Avengers: Endgame to Greasy Strangler, a surprise hit that she discovered at Sundance: London, which is hosted at Picturehouse Central. "I went on a one-woman mission to get everybody to see Greasy Strangler," she says. "It's no surprise that the world is f***ed, right? People want to come to the cinema, and they want to see something thrilling and exciting and be taken out of their own skin and minds for a few hours. Fundamentally, Empire is here to help you choose how to spend your money at the cinema, and that's a responsibility that we don't take lightly."
As Empire continues to excel as the world's leading film publication, Picturehouse also has its eyes on a bright future. That said, Binns is keen not to forget the group's roots. "Who knows what the industry landscape will look like in 30 years? Will we have dedicated VR-only screens? Will we succumb to cat-friendly screenings?" she says. "For me, no matter what happens to cinema in the future, I'd be comforted to see Picturehouse continue to show a wide range of quality films to audiences of all ages. At Picturehouse, it's all about our communities and creating an environment where no matter who you are or where you are in life, you can feel welcome and at home."
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The cinema is now so buzzy and full of life. I still get a thrill every time I walk in. That feeling has not changed since we opened five years ago today.