London’s V&A museum teamed with Picturehouse Entertainment to screen a live cinema event marking the end of its hit David Bowie exhibition. Michael Rosser was in attendance.

David Bowie Is Happening Now marked a series of firsts for me. It was the first time I had attended a “live cinema event”. It was also the first time I had chosen to explore the life and work of musician David Bowie. The event exceeded my expectations on both counts.

Event cinema is big business and growing fast. A total of 131 events were screened in UK cinemas in 2012, generating an estimated gross revenue of £12.5m, according to a report by IHS Screen Digest.

This popularity was clear to see at the packed Phoenix Cinema in London’s East Finchley on Tuesday night.

Picturehouse Entertainment, which teamed with London’s V&A Museum, screened the event at 20 of its cinemas. But it was distributed to around 200 others across the UK by Picturehouse, which now makes 12% of its box office from alternative content.

As the broadcast began, the sound of a man directing the action was accidentally broadcast into the cinema. Was this Hamish Hamilton, who directed live TV coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games? He told the crew (and us) to “have a good show”.

Curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh introduced the broadcast, produced by UK indie Done & Dusted, from a stage at the V&A before a select audience in the round. Marsh’s nerves showed a little. Maybe the enormity of his sentence – “This is being watched by 20,000 viewers around the country” – hit home.

What followed was a series of pre-recorded segments, showcasing around 300 objects from the musician’s archive including lyrics, costumes and other trinkets. While more than 300,000 visitors saw the exhibition during its run, this was an opportunity to see these objects up close and personal on a big screen with tremendous insight into their history.

These were broken up by live testimonials from people including designer Kansai Yamamoto, a wonderfully eccentric character who created many of Bowie’s most iconic outfits in the 1970s, and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who discussed the impact of seeing Bowie’s lyrics that looked like they had been scribbled by “a 14 year-old girl”.

Other contributors to the film included author and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, artisit Jeremy Deller, choreographer Michael Clark, photographer Terry O’Neill, graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook, music writer Paul Morely, Condé  Nast International president Nichols Coleridge, journalist Iain R Webb and British Film Institute governor Sit Christopher Frayling.

The broadcast was a glowing success and the audience voted with thunderous applause. It may have been my first “event cinema” experience but it will not be the last.

Incidentally, the biggest laugh of the night went to a member of the public interviewed in the middle of the exhibition who said: “How can one person fit all this into one life? And he’s not even dead!”

Michael Rosser is news editor of Screen International