David Lean spirit at Croydon’s ‘art house’ cinema pub

By - Friday 1st March, 2013

Film-lovers are regularly filling the Spread Eagle’s upstairs room. Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign programmer Philip Howard explains why

The Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign pursues two main objectives. Our primary goal is to reopen the David Lean Cinema in the Clocktower complex. In the longer term, this could mean supporting a social enterprise or cinema chain with attractive plans, but in the meantime we seek the cooperation needed to present some of our own screenings there. Our chairman, Adrian Winchester, takes the lead here, and we hope to make concrete progress before long. Our secondary goal is to offer a programme of high-quality screenings to our supporters. These help to fill the gap left by the closure and are also effective in promoting the campaign and boosting our membership, which is now stands at around 650. We mix occasional 16mm screenings at the Shirley Community Centre with digital seasons every other month at the Spread Eagle pub. Here, I’ll explain how I select the latter, especially our forthcoming March programme.

The process starts when the first reviews come out. I read as many as possible, and see some prospective films when they hit the cinemas. I keep some in mind but there are a number of constraints. The most fundamental is the catalogue of films maintained by Filmbank, the company who make Public Video Screening Licences available to non-theatrical venues such as the Spread Eagle. Given the Campaign’s limited resources, we have not paid to hire individual films – although we may occasionally do so in future – so we’re grateful that we can screen any that Filmbank offer, once they are commercially available on DVD or Blu Ray. This is an impressive resource, giving us access to at least a substantial minority of the films we might select.

Having picked out some new(ish) releases, I watch trailers and seek out additional reviews for films I haven’t seen at the cinema. Then it’s time to draft the programme, discuss it with the campaign’s committee and finalise it. Whilst we don’t have firm guidelines, we adhere to certain principles. Firstly, we try to respect the programming philosophy of the David Lean Cinema. It often screened foreign language features, and took care to respond to the interests of its core audience, who were more mature than Vue’s clientele. Some types of films were rarely screened, such as horror and films aimed at a teenage audience. We avoid gratuitous violence that isn’t integral to the plot. Secondly, we try to maximise the choice by not screening films on the Fairfield’s programme. Thirdly, our programme should be balanced. As we’re only showing four or five films in a month, and then nothing the next month, it’s important to ensure that as many of our supporters as possible will have something they’ll enjoy.

Another Spread Eagle full house at the Campaign’s Halloween Horror Show

So, to our March programme. The Filmbank database revealed three films of outstanding artistic merit: Argo, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, and The Master. A glance at the Fairfield’s programme soon pared us back, as Argo and The Master were scheduled for February. So, we programmed Beasts, which I had set my heart upon since seeing it at the BFI Southbank Studio in December. It’s a wonderful, fearless, life-affirming, visionary movie – quite possibly the best of all the films we’ve shown. Just before we announcing the programme, the Fairfield announced a May screening, but our non-competition policy can only go so far; we want to give our supporters a chance to see this brilliant film as soon as we can. It therefore launches the season on Monday 4 March – three spots left to fill. There was a definite vacancy for a film I’d taken a shine to back in October: Ruby Sparks. From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine (a huge hit at the ‘real’ DLC), this has an audacious ‘High Concept’ – a writer literally creating his ideal woman – and starts out fun but has a dark side. This film illustrates the battle between personal taste and creating a programme which others will appreciate. My own preference is strongly for ‘films about nothing’; at my dream cinema, the projection room would be full of silent or knowingly mannered comedies, abstract landscapes (think Le Quattro Volte), and the mumblecore end of Generation Y relationship drama. The auditorium, alas, might be empty! The artificiality and youth of Ruby Sparks gets close to that territory, but I may have already tested our supporters’ considerable patience in January with the introspective Take This Waltz. The last two films therefore need to be of a very different character.

Filmbank currently lacks good, brand new foreign language films, but it does have a rarely-seen film released a year ago: Les Adoptes. This is a French take on what my father called a ‘women’s picture’, with the focus upon female relationships and friendships. Given the popularity of The Well Digger’s Daughter and Delicacy last year, we should give this movie a chance. And finally, an approachable comedy, with an element of the social conscience which is also in the DLC’s DNA. The Sapphires is a joyous romp through ’60s soul with a charismatic performance from Chris O’Dowd as the manager of the eponymous Australian Aboriginal girl group.

So that’s our four films for March. They’re all good (and at least one is great); they’re all different and they’re all in the spirit of the David Lean Cinema. We hope that supporters old and new will enjoy them.

All films are on Mondays at 2:30pm and 8:00pm. Seats are first-come first-served and it’s wise to arrive at least 10 minutes early. Admission is free in return for providing our hosts with custom. For more details, see our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/LeanCampaign or email us at  to be added to our mailing list.

Philip Howard

Philip Howard

I'm a lifelong Croydon citizen, growing up in Park Hill and Old Coulsdon, and now living in Sanderstead. Professionally, I'm a researcher for the National Offender Management Service, and have nearly completed a PhD in Forensic Psychology. Off-duty, I volunteer for the Save The David Lean Cinema Campaign, go to galleries and gigs, am a fan of Crystal Palace FC, Surrey CC and the New York Mets, and try to be a better triathlete while acquiring a growing collection of aches and pains.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gilesap Anne Giles

    Good article, although I wouldn’t agree that people attending the Save the David Lean films are more mature than those going to the other cinema. I am 71 and I go regularly to the Grants Vue in Croydon. They show very good films and the seats are incredibly comfortable. I cannot go to the Spread Eagle, as I can’t manage the steps. Shame really.

  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    Thank you for this — very interesting to hear how the selection process works! I hadn’t realised that the screenings were under a licence held by the Spread Eagle rather than one held by the David Lean campaign.

    It’s a shame that, as Anne mentions, the venue isn’t accessible, but as someone who’s hunted in vain for an accessible pub function room in central Croydon I understand the difficulty!

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.winchester Adrian Winchester

    We regret that the stairs are not ideal for everyone but a pub with a lift – or with ground floor screening facilities – must be extremely rare. But on the plus side, we have become more inclusive by responding to requests to have some screenings with subtitles for the hard of hearing – which some members also like in relation to Irish/Scottish/American accents! The afternoon screening of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ will be subtitled.