Lights, Camera, Action

New state-of-the-art multiplexes, new boutique art houses – Christchurch residents again have a full range of big-screen options. And one of the “little jewels” is in the very safe hands of Christchurch cinema legend Nick Paris.

Located at the Arts Centre, Lumière’s new theatre complex is a great big vote of confidence in a bright future for cinema in Christchurch and at the same time a series of gentle nods to the past. There’s the two theatres named after screen legends Brigitte Bardot and Sarah Bernhardt. There’s the names Bijou (for the bar) and Lumière, both firmly entrenched in cinema history both local and international. And then there’s the Bijou Bar’s cocktail list, each drink named after one of the grand movie palaces of Cathedral Square, historical photos of which line the walls. Anyone for a Liberty or a Crystal Palace?

None of this would come as a surprise to anyone who knows the complex’s co-owner, Nick Paris, who has worked in Christchurch’s cinema and film industry for 40 years, starting off in the mid 1970s as projectionist at the Hollywood in beachside suburb Sumner. The Lumière’s other owner, Max Hoffman, a former screenwriter who wrote for several major film studios in Hollywood, is just as much a cinema tragic. “That’s my game,” Nick says. “I love cinema history. I wanted to have a time capsule of all that. Hence the name Bijou, hence the name Lumière. All nods to the past.”

Nick proudly shows off the complex’s state-of-the-art digital projection equipment – again, though, wistfully remembering a time when projectionists wrestled with large, heavy reels, a ribbon of film draped around their neck. The theatre complex is over the road from Hagley Park and its appositely flamboyant Peacock Fountain, in the Arts Centre’s former West Lecture building next to the Great Hall. There are two entrances, one off Rolleston Avenue and the other from one of the courtyards in the grounds of the former Canterbury College. From the entrance foyer, it’s down by stairs or lift to the 46-seat Bardot cinema or up to the 70-seat Bernhardt and the adjacent Bijou Bar. You can take your cheeseboard and glass of wine, craft beer or cocktail to your seat.

The theme throughout is Art Deco augmented with potted ferns and other period touches. Heritage doesn’t get in the way of comfort though, with double glazing and insulation keeping punters cosy inside and extraneous noises outside. That deals with a problem the pre-quake Academy cinema, on the other side of the Arts Centre, faced when loud bands at the nearby Dux de Lux would sometimes intrude on a film’s quiet moments. Nick sees a big responsibility in his role at the Arts Centre, which was home to cinemas from 1976 until the February 2011 earthquake significantly damaged many buildings and resulted in the closure of the entire centre. “It was the best art house in New Zealand when it opened,” Nick says of the original Arts Centre cinema. “It was ahead of its time for location, for programming. I’m really humbled that I’m able to keep curating that and looking after it.”

Arts Centre chief executive Philip Aldridge says Lumière is the perfect fit for the Arts Centre, which received several high-quality operator proposals. “Nick is synonymous with film in Christchurch and wants the cinema to be a 365-day film festival, which is a brilliant ambition. We’re excited to have him and Max bring cinema back home to the Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora. They believe in our vision of creating a centre of the arts and a hub for creativity with many rich layers of experiences. We look forward to seeing the cinematic world they create.”

Nick’s plans for Christchurch cinema extend beyond the Arts Centre and include special screenings at the Isaac Theatre Royal. The first of these is a 25th anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction, on July 9. As part of the rebuild of the Isaac Theatre Royal, digital projection equipment was installed but Nick’s plans include putting a 35mm film projector in the theatre as well, so those cinema classics can be screened and viewed as originally created. Getting the right gear is no issue. “The machinery is all in private collections around New Zealand. I’ve got people falling over each other to donate the equipment. And around the world there’s lots of prints available.”

Coming soon to Lumière

New Zealand International Film Festival: The Lumière will co-host the 2019 NZIFF from August 8 – 25.

Persona Non Grata: This retrospective series of Identity Horror Cinema includes Mario Bava’s uncut Lisa and the Devil, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the legendary auteur Robert Altman’s 3 Women.

Matariki: Lumière will join the Arts Centre’s Matariki celebrations with screenings of Barry Barclay’s Ngati (presented by the NZ Film Heritage Trust) and the excellent documentary Voices of the Land, a moving celebration of the work of musicologist Richard Nunns, who is particularly known for playing taonga pūoro, or traditional Māori instruments.

Lumière, 26 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch
03 365 0066