Why are cinemas important to me and so many other young people?
By Betsy Sheil
I think there’s a current misconception that young people do not care as much for cinema as older generations do, and in an age of streaming and easy digital access where viewing films and TV on laptops, tablets and phones has become normalized, it is an easy assumption to make. However, even as someone who values the ease of streaming – and can be a prolific binger at times – I still find that nothing will ever top the experience of watching a film at a cinema. Though I do often fear that as we move to an increasingly digital world, cinemas (especially independent cinemas) will be erased. I know that many people, myself included, are prepared to fight for their survival.
Cinemas have played a big role in my life. Growing up I spent a lot of time at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham, where my parents are office tenants, to the point where over the years Broadway has become a second home to me. I remember as a child my dad would be running his annual horror film festival around Halloween time and I would visit Broadway where the staff would be giving out those tiny gummy sweets in the shape of human organs, and the foyer would be covered in cobwebs. I think that was one of the first times I fully acknowledged how communal cinemas can be; whether you’re a loyal fan of horror films or just want to see the newest film out, a cinema creates a joint experience. This was something I particularly missed when the pandemic hit in March 2020. I went from spending at least a couple of nights a week at Broadway to spending all my time in the house. Whilst we as a family used film and television as a pastime throughout the pandemic, and whilst the medium of streaming never failed us, for the past year and a half I have felt a void and longing that could only be filled by a visit to a cinema. For months I longed to be sat among strangers who were sharing the same experience as me. Because cinemas are not just vessels to consume media, they are so much more, they allow an escape and separation from the rigours of your day-to-day life. You share this magical experience of watching and consuming a film – sharing in the intimacy of that – with your loved ones, but also strangers, and that makes it a very different experience to watching something at home alone. I find it fascinating how cinemas allow you to have such an intimate relationship with a screen and the films you are watching – a cinema is where you will discover a new love for a genre, filmmaker or actor, and it is done in such a way that engages the emotions as well as the mind.
Some of my best memories have been made at cinemas. As a child I adored the Studio Ghibli films, even now I have a tiny Totoro shrine in my bedroom. Being able to watch numerous Ghibli films in Broadway – in a seat that was too big for me and required me to ask for a booster block – was magical. I remember watching The Secret World of Arrietty with my mum (who adored Ghibli films as much as me). Watching a tiny world on a big screen was so special to me, it made me feel big. Growing up and being able to watch films in a cinema so thoughtful as Broadway, helped shape my creative interests as a young woman. Cinema is so much more impactful than we realise. I will never leave behind the electric feeling that I started having as a young girl on her first cinema trip.
I remember the first or second film I watched when I returned to Broadway after 7 months of home streaming – Miss Juneteenth – felt so magical. I had gone to see it with a friend who I had used to routinely visit Broadway with before the pandemic hit. We would go on these cinema trips picking the film that most interested us from that week’s line-up and watch them together. In a way though, the choice of film never fully mattered, it was more the trip to the cinema that was important to us and the ability to have this shared experience together. I felt profoundly emotional to be back in the cinema with her – I had not seen her for a couple of months, nor had I been to the cinema in a few months, and I had longed to see both of them for so long that the day felt truly rewarding. It was the perfect cinema trip for me.
There’s something charming about cinemas wherever you find them. Whilst on holiday in Gozo with my family a few years ago, we decided to go and see ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ in a tiny cinema, the only screen on the island. The theatre only sat about 20 people, me and my family being 4 of those, and we watched the film in the company of only a few others. Seeing such a ‘big’ film in such a small screening was not only fun but showed that even the smallest of cinema screens can provide an escape. For the two and a half hours of watching ‘Mission Impossible’ I had forgotten I was miles away from everyone else I knew at home.
For me, cinemas are a central part of how I enjoy films. Though streaming has been part of my life since I was a child, I don’t see it as a replacement for the cinema experience. At home I can watch and rewatch films and enjoy them almost as a comfort food. But if I want to feel something, be overwhelmed, immersed and transported, then the cinema is where I want to be.
Here’s what some of Betsy’s peers said when she asked: “What does Cinema mean to you?”
“It’s a completely different world”
“The atmosphere is so much more immersive than at home, and i enjoy seeing other audience members reactions to certain moments”
“I love focusing on nothing but the film, no distractions”
“I love the collective experience – the atmosphere, vibe and immersion are unmatched”
“Going to the cinema is like treating yourself, it obliges you to concentrate. Its f*cking therapy”
Click HERE for where to watch The Secret World of Arrietty – screenwriters Keiko Niwa and Hayao Miyazaki
Click HERE for where to watch Miss Juneteenth written & directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples
Find and Support your local independent cinemas HERE
Betsy Sheil is an Arts student from Nottingham. From a young age, she has been an avid lover of filmmaking and the local cinema (Broadway in Nottingham). Although a lover of all film, Betsy has a particular interest in the promotion of female and non-binary filmmakers, and how the presentation of women on screen is evolving and changing. She also has a soft spot for the comedy genre and is a dedicated fan of Olivia Wilde’s ‘Booksmart’. Currently studying for her A levels, Betsy hopes to go on to work in filmmaking/film journalism.