The Grey area

Nigel Powlson reports on how two Derbyshire cinemas are
pulling in packed houses of more mature moviegoers

It might be the under-25s who make up the biggest cinema audience but Derbyshire, at least, has proved that if you cater properly for an older age group they will come to the movies.

Ashley Franklin first started introducing films at the UCI multiplex whilst reviewing movies for BBC Radio Derby. He noticed that the older radio audience was willing to come and see films, often weeks after their initial run, on his personal recommendation. Later as a Saga Radio presenter, he joined forces with the Ritz cinema in Belper to run Silver Screen. 

Every Thursday morning since then Ashley has introduced a film he has personally selected for the over-50s – and they play to packed houses. He says: “It’s one of the reasons the Ritz now gets such a healthy cross section of cinema-goers, because after coming to Silver Screen they have started going to other screenings … and some of them are people who have never set foot in a multiplex.” 

It was such a good idea that when Derby’s £11.2 million Quad arts centre knocked on the door asking if the Derby Telegraph would like to get involved in any projects, I copied Ashley’s format. My version is called Midweek Treat and takes place every Wednesday at 2pm. We offer free tea and coffee and biscuits and I do a five-minute introduction on the film. I also do some photo-copied film notes for the audience.

We plug the upcoming movie every week in the paper and on our website as well as in the Quad brochure. It has been one of Quad’s biggest successes, attracting 200 people each week to films as diverse as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  The audiences seem to trust the films we pick and have come out in force to see movies such as the French drama I’ve Loved You So Long as well as more obvious choices like Bright Star and Young Victoria.  

Ashley believes that the older audience like going to the cinema but are put off to a certain extent by the multiplex experience.He also believes that a lot of critics and film companies can be out of touch with an audience that still prefers films to be based on story and characters rather than special effects and who prefer films without bad language.

The World’s Fastest Indian, for example, was such a hit with Silver Screen cinema-goers that it played several times at the Ritz and won their Audience Choice Award at the cinema’s annual Ritzys. “The producer was so pleased he flew in especially to collect it,” says Ashley.  

Certainly Ashley has found that for this audience that (to quote Field of Dreams) “if you build it, they will come”.  “By creating the right environment, making older cinema goers feel comfortable and by programming the right kind of films, you can build a loyal audience,” he says. “ I think we have brought back that sense of an occasion that people had when they went to the cinema in the 1960s.”