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Clare Binns on 30 years at the Ritzy

As the Ritzy cinema in Brixton celebrates its 100th birthday, we asked the Picturehouse exec about her long-time love for this cinema.

Two London cinemas are celebrating their 100th birthdays this year: the Ritzy in Brixton and the Gate in Notting Hill, both part of the Picturehouse circuit.

One person with particular birthday love for the Ritzy is Clare Binns at Picturehouse. She’s now known as one of the most influential figures in the UK market — as the company’s director of programming (for 18 of their cinemas - Ritzy included - and a network of a further 35) and also acquisitions head as the company has recently expanded into distribution.

Binns got a more humble start at the Ritzy. “I joined the Ritzy in 1981 as an usher and have been there ever since,” she tells Screen. “I was usher, then projectionist, then manager, and then started booking it. I even cleaned the cinema as well when they sacked the cleaners.” (Click here for a great shot of her putting letters on the Ritzy marquee back in the day!)

It’s still her local cinema as she lives in the area. And it’s also a family affair. “All my children have worked there, and my daughter still works there on Saturdays,” Binns says proudly.

The building was designed as the Electric Pavilion, which opened in March 1911 as one of England’s first purpose-built cinemas, with more than 750 seats in the auditorium. It was renamed the Pullman in 1954 and the Classic in 1976 before being shut down. In 1978, it was opened as an arts cinema named Little Bit Ritzy. It was overhauled and expanded in 1994 and joined the City Screen chain in 2003.

Binns thinks The Ritzy is a special venue, not just because of its history. “It’s a local cinema that has a world view. It looks out internationally but it’s still there for the local audiences. There’s a sense of ambition in what you can do with a local cinema, it’s a template for what I think a local cinema can be.” One example would be the cinema recently hosting a Q&A with Werner Herzog that was beamed to other UK cinemas.

With Brixton being such a colourful area, we asked Binns about the strangest thing she ever saw at the Ritzy? “There was a man who came into a screening and then stripped naked from the waist down. It wasn’t too crowded so we left him alone. He watched the film, put his trousers back on and left.”

For less salacious entertainment, check out some of the Ritzy birthday celebrations: One special programme planned is the A to Z of Ritzy-esque films, which kicked off Sunday with A for Android. Z for Zombies will wrap things up. Other events planned at the Ritzy include Murnau’s Nosferatu with a live performance by Minima (April 29), and 100 performances in one day on June 18.

 

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