Event review: Lost Format Society’s pop-up cinema, July-August 2015

By - Tuesday 25th August, 2015

Uber-cool, super-fun and under-attended. Where was the queue down Dingwall Road? asks Liz Sheppard-Jones

Photo by Swipe Right PR, used with permission.

Feeling proud and positive about Croydon is becoming the norm. Well OK, perhaps I’m jumping the gun slightly, but these days there’s at least a middling chance that a mention of Crocus Town will elicit a positive response, as happened recently to Jonny Rose, Croydon Tech City co-founder, Citizen writer and twitter-de-force, who took to social media to express his pleasure. It’s happened to me too. There’s good word out there and good stuff on here and we should be dead happy.

I’m not happy right now, though, and here’s the reason: I’ve been to hip, fun Format pop-up cinema events twice in the last two weeks and on neither occasion was there more than moderate attendance – why? It should have sold out in hours.

Darth Vader greets you, spray-painted on the wall

Photo author’s own.

The Lost Format Society pop-up cinema is open-air, on the roof of Dingwall Road carpark, right by East Croydon station – as hot and as handy  a location as you could wish for. You start your evening by climbing seven flights up an extremely gritty and graffiti-ed south London concrete stairwell (the sort of urban pioneering experience which appeals massively to me although others may differ). Darth Vader greets you, spray-painted on the wall, then it’s out to the top deck with the tables, the bar, and the pop-up food joint. Anyone can eat, drink and take in the view at Lost Format, but if you’re staying for the movie you go to the popcorn kiosk with your ticket and they hand you a headset and proffer a blanket. It’s worth mentioning that they are also extremely helpful and polite.

Movie goers then take their seats in rows of stripy deckchairs, and as night falls around you and the Crystal Palace mast shines out on the brow of the hill that hides the city, the entertainment gets underway.

It’s so good we’ve been twice. First time was a birthday trip for my son to discover the big-haired Cold War boys-n-toys fabulousness that is Top Gun, and if you want to know how the world has changed since the ’80s, consider this: his response to the towel-clad locker room rivalry between Ice Man and Maverick was a laconic “Why don’t those guys get a room?” I couldn’t get over the baby faces of its stars.

On our second visit we saw Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the impressive Hawking movie The Theory of Everything, which led to a thoughtful discussion on the bus home about whether it’s an uplifting story or a distressing one. I’d been troubled by it – to me, the idea of such a mind imprisoned in a body that won’t obey is frightening and young Stephen’s response to his death sentence: ‘I have two years to live. I must work!’ clenched my stomach. My children decided it’s both.

Are we so resigned to our ‘cultural desert’ that we see only camels and sand?

The kids had popcorn and we had wine. When a few drops of rain threatened, a member of staff handed out plastic ponchos in admirably British fashion but luckily – and despite dramatic lightning flashes across the darkening sky – these weren’t really called for. Someone with senses of both humour and adventure picked the programme, which has included The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and The Breakfast Club. No two ways about it, this joint should have been jumping.

Publicity’s been out there (and not just on social media), though of course there’s always more you can do: was  information about Lost Format dropped into the inboxes of the David Lean cinema’s adventurous clientele? But there’s been a large sign right by Platform Ruskin Square for a number of weeks. It’s still there now. Do we not notice? Are we so brainwashed by the notion of a Cronxian cultural desert that we see only camels and sand when music festivalscomedy buses and pop-up cinemas are sprouting before our eyes?

Attendance is noticeably a town centre issue, as the recent Ambition festival highighted: the vibrancy of Croydon’s villages is palpable and events from Crystal Palace to Coulsdon are increasingly well supported and have been extensively covered in the Citizen in recent weeks. But the point about a centre is, well, that it’s the heart of things.

Whatever the reason it’s a damn shame, and I’ll take a share of blame for those empty seats. I push cultural stuff in Croydon, so B- and ‘must try harder’. I’ll take comfort, though, from Jonny Rose’s argument that recovery from years of vilification and breast-beating is a cumulative process. It’s going to take time.

Actually, there’s still time. Lost Format doesn’t finish until 31st August. Go see the big screen under the big sky, and enjoy.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • David

    Living nearby (ish) it’s something I’d love to support, but you can’t write an article about the cinema without mentioning the ticket price – £15. Without wanting to sound miserly – it’s more expensive than most west end cinemas or even other pop up rooftop cinemas in Peckham/Stratford/Ealing! Croydon doesn’t (yet) have an unlimited number of hipster types in the way other parts of inner London now does – price still matters!

    • Bev

      Just what I was about to write.

      • Mrs_P

        Me too! I think there’s a theme developing here….

  • Anne Giles

    Lovely idea. We would never pay £15 though. We usually pay around £6 or £7 each to go the Grants Vue cinema in Croydon. That is the Senior Citizens rate. I personally find deckchairs very uncomfortable and being either cold or wet doesn’t appeal either. How many people would be happy to climb 7 steps? Is there no lift? All the other car parks in Croydon have lifts. I still think for some people it would be quite an exciting thing to do, with the stars up above and a bar handy. But if you have to book beforehand and it starts bucketing down with rain, would you get your money back? Reminds me of performing years’ ago at the Minack theatre in Cornwall. Steve and I were musicians there and we played under cover. It bucketed down with rain virtually every day, yet there were loads of people, all sitting with bin liners round their legs, and waterproof jackets and hats, umbrellas, etc.

    • Bev

      Personally I’d rather support the Davis Lean where I can buy 2 tickets for £15-full rate.

      • Anne Giles

        The David Lean is not for us. We find the seating very uncomfortable. If you sit in the front row you get neckache, which requires a lot of physiotherapy afterwards. The other rows do not have enough leg room and there is only one aisle, which can make one feel quite trapped. The films are good though, but whenever I find what films are on, I just look them up and buy the DVD from Amazon. The Grants Vue is the best – lots of leg room and very comfortable seats. Good films too.

        • Bev

          Personally I have not had those problems. There is a mixture of new releases and old films at the David Lean. There are also sometimes Q and A sessions afterwards. I would rate the David Lean over Grants any day.

        • Marjorie Daw

          Sorry, you have been uncomfortable at the DL, but it has such an excellent range of films, which no other local cinema is able to offer- in friendly company, and the chance to discuss them afterwards in Q & A sessions. September’s list of films is very promising – The Choir, Love and Mercy (who can resist the music of the beach Boys), Gemma Bovery and Mistress America, amongst others- and on a large screen.

          • Anne Giles

            None of which interest me though! I don’t do Q & A sessions. After a film, all we want to do is go home for dinner and to be with our dog.:-) As you rightly say, most patrons enjoy the wonderful range of films, but then there are thousands of people in Croydon who are not patrons and never will be.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      I can’t work out if you are supporting me or not here, Anne :) I love the Minack, though, and I totally agree about music or movies or theatre under the stars.. it’s definitely something a bit special.

      About access to Format I agree too – it would have been great if they could have fixed the lift and given access for everyone, but that car park isn’t the smartest and I guess it just wasn’t possible.

      • Anne Giles

        How could I not support you Liz? What you are doing is wonderful!!!

        • lizsheppardjourno

          Aw shucks ;)

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Well…. it’s £14 a ticket, which isn’t cheap although these things are relative …. an omission certainly, so my bad, but a couple of points:

    – I can’t take a family of 4 to Grants Vue in the High Street for much under £40 by the time we’ve all had a Coke
    – this isn’t an ordinary cinema, it’s a pop-up venue with all the costs of set-up to be considered
    – it’s not ONLY a cinema, it’s also a bar and open-air restaurant and it’s free to enter, so you can go up there, have a beer and watch the sun set. (Or the rain fall…. but we do live in England). And people aren’t doing that much either
    – the idea that Croydon is a low-income area is wrong. It has a very diverse population with areas of high disposable income. You don’t have to be a ‘hipster’, whatever that might be, to spend £15 per head on a night out a short walk away in the Restaurant Quarter or at the Fairfield Halls. I just looked on its website and found tickets for ‘A Vision of Elvis 2016′ at £22.50 and ‘Anton and Eris Just Gotta Dance’ at £32, £41 and £45

    For the fun and originality on offer, Lost Format is a bargain!

    • David

      I agree there’s plenty of wealth in Croydon – but I think at the market who will pay £14/15 to sit on the roof of a multi storey carpark to watch a film is somewhat limited. It’s a very different sort of person to someone who will pay the same (or more) to sit in a nice restaurant in South Croydon!

      I think it’s a great idea however!

    • Anne Giles

      Different with us, of course, because I can’t climb steps or sit on anything other than a chair with good back support. We stopped paying high prices for gigs. A couple of friends of ours charge £25 a head to perform, so we no longer see them, as I no longer have a salary and they won’t do concessions. At Grants we pay the Senior Citizens rate and at Fairfield half price, as I am disabled. The same applies to tickets for the Southbank for us – half price and free parking. However, it is a lovely idea for people who have a good income, especially if they have access to food and drink. (A bit like being on holiday). :-)

  • Lost Format Society

    Thanks for taking the time to visit and review Liz. Good points have been raised and as fellow Croydon locals it’s encouraging to see a shared passion amongst your readers. One point that comes up in the comments is the ticket price. It’s perhaps worth shedding light on this. The ticket price is indeed £14. The ticket processing site Eventbrite charge 10% commission which bumps the prices up. However from the £14, 20% is paid away to the tax man as VAT therefore bringing this now to £11.66. The cost to licence each movie starts from 40% of the ticket price (most films are licensed through Filmbank or MPLC). So from £11.66 this drops to £8.32. So in fact whilst for some £14 may appear a touch expensive, hopefully the above sheds some light on costs / tax incurred before actual event costs (site build, CCTV, 24 hour security) are taken into consideration.

    It’s great to contribute and put on activities that offer alternative leisure activities. With the anticipated arrival of Westfield and Boxpark this of course creates positive headlines. For the first time in a long while we feel there’s a sense of optimism in the town but at the same time and independent from the likes of Westfield, there are local people doing good things and we hope to add to that momentum :)

    The two operational lifts were taken out of service two days before we opened – unfortunately without our knowledge so this was a set back :( and we’ve been grateful for the patience shown by our visitors in bearing with the stairs.

    As an aside David commented below that the price is out of sync with similar rooftop cinema experiences. In actual fact one of the sites reference – Ealing – was the location we initiated and ran in 2013 and 2014 for one of our clients. Seeing how well this worked, contributed to our desire to form ‘The Croydon Creative’ and deliver this for Croydon. After all why should we head out of the borough to enjoy a night out? (£14 is the same price for a ticket by our good friends Rooftop Film Club at Peckham, Shoreditch and Stratford).

    Thanks again for your support and we hope to return in 2016, taking on board feedback received :)

    • Anne Giles

      What was the reason for removing the lifts? A lot of drivers would have to stop using the car park if that is the case.

      • Lost Format Society

        Hi Anne, We haven’t been provided with a reason directly unfortunately but we understand from the notices that have been displayed that they may have been closed due to reliability issues. As you allude to this affects the whole car park. The car park is planning a refurbishment in January 2016 and the notice displayed on the lifts suggests the lift will be closed until this time.

        • Anne Giles


  • Rosie E

    Oh wow this sounds great.. I’ve clearly been walking around Croydon like an ostrich!. I shall be flying up those flights of steps to have a nose around, point out the sights to my kids and munch popcorn appreciating the view (which is the best thing about Grants cinema anyway!).

    Price sounds reasonable in context.. we just paid £16 each to watch outdoor Shakespeare in Cambridge performed in front of some bushes with virtually no set-up costs and no on-line or pay-by card facilities.

    There’s a precedent for car-park culture in Croydon – there was Unfinished Dream the gritty community theatre on the roof of Q car-park a few years ago. I hope this is just the start…

  • Jeannegenius

    Great article! Like you Liz, I think the idea of a rooftop cinema in Croydon is very imaginative and interesting particularly on a fine starry night. However since August has been rather busy for us, I haven’t yet been.
    I do think that £15 a head is rather pricey and the choice of films hasn’t really grabbed me. After all many of them have been around for a long time both via TV and on DVD and these are West End prices. So perhaps next time, maybe the programme could be more imaginative – maybe some of the old classics or some more “niche market” films?
    A flyer could be distributed via the David Lean as the target audience might be similar but one of Lost Forum’s nights on Thursdays clashes directly with a David Lean screening so there might be difficulties in doing that. However some form of future cooperation might work for mutual benefit as DL certainly seem to have interesting ideas for the choice of film.
    All in all a very good addition to the Croydon Arts scene.