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08 Jan 2024

Remembering our ghosts

programme

Reflecting on Pictures of Ghosts and the significance of cinemas

“A Cinema can be a place of kindness. The Cinema as a Church.” Kleber Mendonça Filho, Pictures of Ghosts (2023).

Wendy Cook

In 2018, Professor Stephanie Dennison of the University of Leeds arranged for Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho to visit the Picture House for a screening and a Q&A. Together we watched his beautiful film Aquarius (2016) starring Sonia Braga and the conversation afterwards drifted thoughtfully between gentrification, the architectural history of a community, the importance of archives and the passage of time. And Braga of course. There was time spent just talking about the magnificent of Sonia Braga.

Sonia Braga in Aquarius (2016)
Sonia Braga in Aquarius (2016)

It was one of those conversations you could gladly listen to for hours. Warm and wise in equal measure.

He loved the Picture House and it was wonderful to show him round and talk to him about our history. As ever, a conversation about our history, once you get beyond the bricks and mortar of this place, became a reflection on the history of our relationship to the community of Hyde Park and Leeds more broadly. The community of film lovers who have brought this place to life over the years whether staff or audiences, or even filmmakers who have shared their work with us as he was.

That was 2018 and so much has happened since then to our little cinema and to the world. Lots of bad, but some good. One of the heavy themes of the conversation that day was about built heritage and the damage done once these spaces are lost. Whilst that significance extends to so many different types of buildings, for us and Mendonça there’s something particular about cinemas, the specific loveliness of these cultural spaces. I think there’s something fitting to note that in the years that have passed we have both continued to explore this in our own way. For the Picture House team we spent years pulling together and exploring our Hiding in Plain Sight project (lostcinemas.co.uk) documenting all of the cinemas of Leeds. Bringing together facts and figures, photographs, and pin points on a map.

Illustrations of lost cinemas of Leeds by Adam Allsuch Boardman

Mendonça's response falls, naturally, in film form as his new documentary, Pictures of Ghosts (2023) which we’re excited to share with our audience on Tuesday 9th January at 6pm.

Picture of Ghosts explores Mendonça Filho’s home city through the great movie theatres which played such a vital role in fostering his love for the medium.

Combining archive documentary, mystery, film clips and personal memories, Pictures of Ghosts is a moving and playful film that examines both the architectural and social structures of his home city and his relationship to cinema and the spaces it inhabits.

What I love about these records (alongside other’s like Flatpack’s brilliant Wonderland project charting the cinemas of Birmingham - www.wonderlandbirmingham.co.uk/ or the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive project at the University of Lancaster) is how central the people are to the act of remembering these spaces. Yes, the buildings themselves are wonderful but it’s the ushers, the projectionists, the everyday conversations with a ticket seller about the film, the first date, the worst date… and of course the transformational experiences with the films themselves which are central.

Isn’t it wonderful to think about the first time you saw a film that made you see the world differently? Leaving the darkened auditorium changed, compared with the person you were when you went in.

Sometimes now the sheer volume of films we can see spanning a whole range of spaces and places to watch in both the real world and the virtual sphere it’s possible to not give any one single experience the time it needs to really hit us, to really resonate. As we start a new year with all the promise and the pressure that comes with that new beginning there is something about spending time remembering what of the past (and our past experiences) feels of value, feels special, and must be prioritised as we move forwards.

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