Indpendent cinema in Portsmouth has had a blighted past but Siri Finess is determined that film fans should be able to enjoy more than the usual Hollywood fare
If ever Siri Finess needed another reason to relaunch an independent cinema in Portsmouth, it came thanks to George Clooney.
She had gone to the Vue multiplex at Gunwharf Quays to see the political thriller The Ides of March which he directed and in which he stars.
But her enjoyment was ruined by a large man, his bucket of popcorn and bottle of fizzy drink.
‘All the way through he kept slurping, dipping his hand into his pocket, chewing noisily and then wiping his hand on his trousers.
‘I’d gone to concentrate on and enjoy the film, but this behaviour ruined it for me. You just don’t get that at No.6,’ says Siri.
Now, No.6, for the uninitiated or those with short memories, was the only cinema of its kind in Portsmouth and the immediate area, which specialised in independent, world cinema and cult classic films.
It closed, for the second time in its chequered five-year history, in March this year after struggling to break even – much to the disappointment of a faithful core audience with a desire to see something other than Hollywood blockbusters.
That rump of devoted cinemagoers simply wasn’t large enough to keep the project going.
But the loyal and dedicated band of volunteers with a passion for the art form, were determined not to let the final credits roll on No.6.
The 275-seat auditorium with its impressive 30ft by 20ft screen is unique in Britain because it sits in the splendour of the Historic Dockyard. It belongs to the Royal Navy’s interactive exhibition Action Stations and is surrounded by some of the city’s most impressive naval architecture with HMS Victory and HMS Warrior just a roll of film away.
So Siri, the cinema’s volunteer manager, was determined not to let the picture house fade away.
‘The owners of the building, the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust have been incredibly supportive,’ says Siri.
‘They gave us until June 2 this year to work out a business plan and pitch it to them.
‘We went to the New Park cinema in Chichester and they were really helpful pointing us in the right direction.
‘We became an unincorporated company so we could open a bank account and so we made our presentation to the trust.
‘They came back to us the same day and said they would back us again.
‘What we then have had to do is make sure we have the finance in place to make our plan watertight.
‘The last thing I want to see happen is for us to close again. We’ve been given a new chance and I passionately want to make it work.’
Siri and her steering committee plan to reopen No.6 next spring, but before that happens they need to raise a minimum of £5,000.
‘We had a very successful film quiz night earlier this month, which alone raised £1,000.
‘There are several more events planned, but until we raise that money and we are secure, we won’t reopen,’ adds Siri, whose committee includes Jo Vernon, Malisa Chafer and Maija Brice.
Costs include an annual subscription to a London-based distributor of independent and foreign films and, unusually, the cost of hiring two security guards during showings because of the proximity to the naval base.
Siri says: ‘The trust is a charity and doesn’t want us to make a profit, simply to cover our costs.
‘We have no intention of making a profit just to bring a successful and popular independent cinema to Portsmouth.’
She adds: ‘Our intention is to show films three nights a week for 10 months a year – nobody goes to the cinema in July and August.’
Siri, a Norwegian who married a Dane and came to England in 1998, grew up watching films of all descriptions.
‘It’s fair to say that my life is dominated by films whether they are on TV, DVD or at the cinema.
‘It’s a wonderful artform. There’s nothing wrong at all with the big Hollywood films but the social realism you get with world cinema is something you don’t tend to get with the American cinema.’
Siri and her team have worked hard to make No.6 more than just a cinema experience. They provide alcoholic drinks, live entertainment and food tastings before screenings, often relating to the film to be shown that evening.
‘We have people of all ages coming here, older people, film students, foreign students. People are very positive about it and there is a lot of warmth in the city for independent cinema.
‘When people visit the cinema they generally go in, watch the film and then put their coats on and go as soon as they can.
‘We offer so much more than that. People come along and mix with others who have a passion for film and art
‘We are not like the mainstream cinemas. Our passion for film and art and our events make us very different from them.’