Chris Lightwing is the co-owner and manager of the Silver Screen Cinema in Folkestone. In addition to the cinema, he runs Kip Films, a film and media company based in the Creative Quarter and also work with Screen South. Last and foremost, he volunteers as a lifeguard During the summer months with Folkestone Rescue, a local charity that keeps people safe on Folkestone’s coast.
Chris: I fell in love with movies at an early age when my parents began taking me to local cinemas. While growing up and discovering all the classic films that cinemas and VHS had to offer, I became fascinated by the filmmaking process – the ability to take an audience on an emotional journey, all within the space of just one room and two hours. Eventually, I began making short films with my friends, using camcorders begged and borrowed from family and acquaintances. This made me realise that I wanted to be involved in film for the rest of my life; doing what I loved.
First job ? While studying a Film & Video degree at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in 2000, I joined ABC Cinemas, working at a small two-screen cinema as Marketing Manager. After completing my degree, I moved to an Odeon Cinema, as ABC Cinemas had been bought out and either closed or rebranded as Odeon. Sadly, as the original ABC management team left and were replaced with newly-trained Odeon managers, the cinema lost its friendly intimate feel, and was run more like a multiplex; focusing on profit and upselling, instead of the cinema experience. I left Odeon soon afterwards and moved to London in 2006 to work in the film and television industry.
Silver Screen Cinema ? In 2012, after spending a weekend visiting family in the area, I decided to move to Folkestone. I started looking at creative companies in the area I could work with, specifically those involved in film. I wrote to the founder and owner of Silver Screen Cinemas, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Wallace, as I remembered Dover’s Silver Screen Cinema fondly from childhood. He invited me to meet him for a chat, and then hired me on the spot! I spent a year working at Folkestone, training under the manager Ian Luck as a 35mm projectionist, and getting to know the place. I had the honour of being one of the last 35mm first-run projectionists in the UK, something which has now become a lost art with the advent of digital cinema.
In 2013, Folkestone Town Council had recently purchased the Town Hall building back with a view to converting it back into Council offices and chambers, and the cinema’s 25-year lease was about to expire. Even worse, UK film distributors gave notice that the supply of 35mm film prints was about to cease forever. The cinema did not have enough funds to update the projection equipment to digital, so the future looked very bleak. By the end of the year, it looked like the Silver Screen might close. The thought of Folkestone losing its only cinema was quite depressing – especially less than two years after moving here – so I started thinking up ways to raise funds and increase business. After discussing our options, I became Sandy’s business partner, and took over the running of the cinema from Ian, who stayed on as consulting manager to lend his experience and advice.
The first year was very difficult. In the first week, the building was battered by a violent storm. Part of the ceiling fell in, forcing us to close for a few days while we repaired the damage. Then the UK film distributors stopped sending us 35mm prints one after the other, except for 20th Century Fox who imported prints from overseas especially for us, which kept us open for a few more months. Luckily, we had a huge amount of support from the local community. Two separate petitions were set up, urging Folkestone Town Council to guarantee the cinema’s future within their plans. Local events-organiser Tom Langlands organised a screening of ‘The Artist’ to raise initial funds for new equipment. This really demonstrated to me that the cinema was loved by the town, and that there was a need to keep it open.
While negotiating with Folkestone Town Council over the terms of a possible new lease, we were also approaching various suppliers to try and source new projection equipment. After several meetings and numerous quotes, we came to an arrangement to install digital projectors for both screens in 2014. Finally, a few days before the cinema’s 25th anniversary in 2015, we signed our new lease with Folkestone Town Council, securing the cinema’s future in Folkestone.
History ? The Silver Screen Cinema in Folkestone was opened in April 1990 by Sandy Wallace, after all of Folkestone’s cinemas had closed by the end of the 1980s. Although the current cinema only goes back to 1990, the Town Hall has been used to show films since the 1800’s, and was one of the first places in Kent to show film, when magician David Devant came to town in 1896 with an early projector called a ‘Theatograph’. The building was also used as a ‘Cinema De Lux’ in the early 1900’s, so I think it’s very fitting that its relationship with film should continue today through the Silver Screen Cinema.
Programme ? It can be difficult to get the films we want. The one advantage multiplex cinemas have over us is the number of screens they have. Not many people realise that when a cinema gets a film, they must agree to show it every day for at least two weeks, and usually with the exclusive use of one screen. The distributor will usually take around 55%-60% of the box office revenue for the first couple of weeks.
With only two screens, we must be extremely careful what we put in each screen, and can’t always get new films in on the release date. However, our local audience is very loyal, and usually don’t mind waiting for a week or two to see a film instead of driving all the way to the nearest multiplex, which will usually be far more expensive.
We always listen to our audience, and do our best to obtain films for which there is a local demand. I don’t think multiplexes are able to cater for audiences as well as smaller independent cinemas like ours. We do try and screen a diverse selection of films for as many people as possible, but we have always been primarily a family-oriented cinema.
Event ? While we’re not an “event cinema” company, we do hold regular events (mostly organised by Tom Langlands), which give our audience the shared experience of watching well-loved classic movies with interactive elements. Not many people can say they’ve watched ‘Aliens’ while being defended by a squad of colonial marines, or had to walk over a red carpet covered in broken “glass” while surrounded by terrorists and uniformed L.A.P.D. officers, when arriving at the cinema to watch ‘Die Hard’. This is an area where independent cinemas have the edge, as the large multiplex companies are slower to adapt to change, and cut costs where presentation is concerned.
Film club ? Folkestone Classic Film Club was founded in 2003 by Peter Gee and John Swift, with funding provided by Screen South. The idea was to make films available to Folkestone that would not normally be shown outside of London, such as independent and foreign language films, as well as older ‘classics’. Membership costs £10 for a year, and members benefit from a reduced ticket price of £4. Our seasonal programmes span three months, and yellow programme leaflets can be found across town.
Kids screening ? I introduced our weekend morning screenings to make children’s films affordable and available to our audience, especially low-income families. We usually show films which have been out for a few weeks, as the distributors are happy for us to reduce the ticket price once enough time has passed since the release date. The tickets cost £2.50 each, and we have a choice of two films showing at 10.30am every Saturday and Sunday.