Meet the volunteers keeping the magic of Portsmouth’s independent No6 Cinema alive

Enthusiastic volunteers are key to a thriving independent cinema in Portsmouth.

Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 12:10 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th February 2020, 3:37 pm

It is said that when Auguste and Louis Lumière showed their early short film Train Pulling into a Station the audience fled to the back of the room in fear.

The giant moving pictures on the screen were so overwhelming that people truly thought a train was coming towards them.

That was in January 1896 and yet more than a century after L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat was first shown to the public, movie theatres still have that power to leave us in awe.

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Boathouse 6 which is home to No6 Cinema in the Historic Dockyard

In fact for Malisa Sledmere this was especially true.

Describing her earliest memory of going to the pictures and seeing Snow White, she said she was ‘absolutely scared witless’ because of the terrible stepmother in it.

‘It really put me off the cinema,’ she said. ‘Then somebody took me to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I really fell in love with cinema and I haven’t looked back.’

Together with a group of volunteers, Malisa now helps to keep the power of the big screen alive at Portsmouth’s independent movie theatre the No6 Cinema.

Malisa Sledmere, the chairwoman of the board at No6 Cinema

Tucked away in the heart of the Historic Dockyard, the journey to find it actually feels like you are being transported into another world even before you step into the auditorium.

Passing from the busy city scenes of The Hard, you then have to weave your way by landmarks of the city’s naval history such as HMS Warrior before arriving at the Grade II listed Boathouse 6.

No6 was founded in 2011 by a group of volunteers including John Holland, who died last year, and they took over the cinema after the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust shut it down.

Malisa, who lives in Southsea and is the chairwoman of the board at No6, said: ‘At the time the dockyard was running it and eventually they closed it down because it was losing too much money.

Frederika Deera, a volunteer at No6 Cinema and member of the board.

‘So a group of us got together to see if we could run it on a slightly reduced scale in a different way.

‘We’ve been doing that since 2012 and we’ve managed to keep our head above water and we get lots of support from cinema-goers. It’s been good fun and I’ve seen some great films.’

The team of volunteers who keep No6 Cinema alive, which includes nine board members and dozens more, often find themselves having to work in a number of different roles - not unlike the actors who appear on the screen.

Frederika Deera, who lives in Portsmouth, said: ‘We go onto a rota, so today I was an usher, I often run the bar or the box office and I’m also on the board.

The bar at No6 Cinema

‘My background is in film and I just absolutely love cinema. I love the diversity of films we show.

‘That’s why I got involved and because it is a volunteer-run, not for profit cinema which is just a perfect environment for me.

No6 offers cinema-goers who missed the big releases a second chance to catch the films everyone has been raving about - or even just a chance to see it on the big screen again.

It also shows smaller more art house movies, including Honeyland – the Oscar-nominated documentary about wild beekeeping in North Macedonia – on one of the biggest screens on the south coast.

Explaining what is unique about No6, Malisa said: ‘We offer a camaraderie of film lovers who come down here, we are always here, we always love to talk about film when we are on the bar.

‘We also show films that other cinemas don’t show, so it gives people the opportunity to see the film on a big screen whereas they otherwise might just have to stream it.’

Decorations in the bar area at No6 Cinema in the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth

Streaming might be the new kid on the block but for the volunteers at No 6 they do not see Netflix and other services as a Thanos-esque threat seeking to end their world.

Frederika said: ‘I absolutely don’t think Netflix is a big threat to this cinema.

The Irishman is a good example we had a good attendance for that because people want to see things on the big screen.

‘I know people do have amazing home cinemas in their homes now but seeing something on a big screen that’s what drives people in really.’

Malisa added: ‘I think there are still people that don’t have streaming services, they don’t want them and they still want to have that experience of sitting in the cinema in the dark, the complete concentration on that piece of work with other people.

‘It is a more immersive experience in the cinema. It is a kind of escape for two and a half hours where you completely block everything else out of your mind.’

While they may not be worried about the threat from Netflix, they do worry about being able to compete with Vue.

The chain cinema based at the nearby Gunwharf Quays cut its price to £4.99 per ticket a few years ago, an act that was then matched by the Odeon cinema at Port Solent.

But for No6 Cinema this is not an option.

Malisa said that they simply cannot afford to cut their prices to match the big chains.

However the £9 for adults that No6 charge is still cheaper than other big chains such as Cineworld in Whiteley, where an adult ticket sets you back £12.75.

But more than anything, the volunteers stressed that taking a trip to No6 Cinema gives cinephiles and even casual moviegoers the chance to experience lesser known films on the big screen as intended.

Malisa said: ‘You sometimes feel completely poleaxed by them at the end and everybody sits silently at the end of the film.’

So while audiences might no longer run away in fear from trains on the screen at No6 Cinema they are still keeping that unique magic of big screen emotions alive.

No6 Cinema shows films on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. More information can be found on the website no6cinema.co.uk

Here’s how No6 Cinema picks the films it shows

RUNNING your own movie theatre might sound like a dream come true for cinephiles.

But with so many different films to choose from each year, let alone the re-releases and the classics, how do you come up with the right programme?

Well in her role as chairwoman of the board at No6 Cinema, it falls to Malisa Sledmere to pick the slate on show at the independent theatre in Portsmouth.

She explained: ‘I do the programming but we do it with Picture House, they do a programming service. So they will send a list of all the films that are about to be released.

‘Then I watch all the trailers, I read up on all the reviews, I’m always listening to what’s going on and what I think will suit our customers.

‘Then I talk to the guy at Picture House, it takes about an hour and we go through all the films.

‘Sometimes at all the trailers look fantastic and you’ll think ‘that looks great’ and he will go ‘urm no’.

‘We do a few classics, each year we do a season. So this year we are doing a season called ‘dark prophecies’ where filmmakers have predicted the dark future of society.

‘We’ve done things like RoboCop, we did Network, we’ve done Pan’s Labyrinth. So we’ve had a series of films that we’ve brought in for that.’

State of cinema industry in UK in 2020

HEADING into the third decade of this century, cinema is facing a set of challenges unlike any before.

Streaming services are working with iconic directors like Martin Scorsese and David Fincher

Between Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Apple TV +, Now TV and many more there are thousands of films and shows available at your fingertips, without having to leave your home.

However despite this it is not doom and gloom for cinemas like No6 or even the big chain rivals.

The UK Cinema Association announced that January admissions were up over 20 per cent on the same month in 2019.

Across the country, more than 16.5m admissions were recorded throughout the month.

It follows on from an ‘exceptional’ 2019 with admissions at their second highest level in 50 years.

In fact the box office broke the £1.25bn barrier for the third year running in the UK.

UK Cinema Association CEO Phil Clapp said: ‘After another exceptional year for UK cinema, it’s great to see that performance continue on into 2020.

‘We know that this year’s film slate is an extraordinarily diverse one, so to see such an exceptional audience response to such a varied range of films on offer augurs well for the weeks and months to come.’

No6 Cinema Picture: Ian Hargreaves (161098-11)