Opened in 1996, the Picture House cinema is situated in Batholomew Street West, one of the oldest parts of the city. The Picture House has proved to be a resounding success with its blend of popular, avant-garde and foreign films.
It was the National Lottery that made the Picture House possible. The small independent City Screen Cinema chain acquired £577,000 of lottery funding towards a budget of £790,000 to open a new alternative cinema in Exeter. The site was a former fruit and veg warehouse and bus repair garage in Bartholomew Street. The award winning conversion was by Burrel Foley Fischer of London and the construction by Bitherey of Honiton. During the construction, Roman artifacts were found and the archeologists were called. This part of Exeter was devoted to housing the Roman garrison with rows of wooden barracks. Shards of Roman pottery from the site are on display in the cafe.
The building consists of two-screens. The larger has a capacity of 220 seats and the smaller 160. The latest, state of the art Westar projectors were installed and there is equipment for projecting 16mm film and video. The new cinema initially employed 22 full and part-time staff.
The new cinema opened with a full program of films in the first week commencing 11th October 1996. The main featured film at opening was the Thomas Hardy story Jude, starring Christopher Ecclestone. The director of the film Michael Winterbottom attended the first showing. City Screen Cinemas planned to show around 288 films per year, giving many non-mainstream films, old classics and children's films the chance of a screening.
Since its opening the cinema has thrived. It was chosen as the venue for the British premier of the Land Girls in 1998 - 60 original land girls were invited and the cinema staff dressed 1940's style. The midnight showing of Starwars, Episode II was attended by the film's screen writer Jonathan Hales, while the Animated Exeter Festival proves to be a successful annual event.
The Picture House
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