Lights, Community, Action: In Conversation with the Ultimate Picture Palace
Last week I had the pleasure of being able to meet with Micaela Tuckwell and Tom Jowett to discuss Oxford’s only independent cinema The Ultimate Picture Palace, affectionately known to many as the UPP.
The UPP has a rich and colourful history. Since first opening its doors to the public under the name of The Oxford Picture Palace in February 1911 with a screening of ‘Broncho Billy’s’ The Bad Man and thePreacher, the cinema has always played a part in the student community; perhaps most notably through their screenings of the Varsity boat races on the evening they took place. The Picture Palace would go on to enter a not-so brief hiatus when it closed in 1917, with its doors remaining shut for nearly 60 years until its reopening as the Penultimate Picture Palace in 1976. Since then, the cinema has become a cultural landmark of the city with a number of passionate regulars from both the local and student communities.
Undoubtedly the main reason for the UPP being so dear to so many is its character and daring film choices. Whilst still being able to screen blockbuster hits, the majority of the films being shown are more fringe art house films which lack the mainstream commercial appeal that would be required for screening at the Odeon or Vue. The reason the UPP has been able to take this direction is due to their independence; something they are currently fighting to maintain.
The reason the UPP has been able to take this direction is due to their independence; something they are currently fighting to maintain.
On the 29th April, the UPP launched their Lights, Community, Action campaign in which they aim to raise £312,575 in order to make the cinema a community-owned one, where it can continue to be Oxford’s hub of independent cinema. The aim is to make up this sum through a large number of community shares, available to anyone interested in investing and keeping the UPP alive.
When asked what the goal of the campaign is Micaela, the UPP’s Executive Director, said “the whole community share offer is about preserving the cinema”. “It’s an incredibly important cinema in the UK, but especially to people in Oxford… if we didn’t sell it to the community then it could be taken over by a commercial cinema, or end up not even being a cinema at all”. “In making the UPP a community cinema, we’d be making sure that we’re still showing a great range of films and that it remains very close to the community”.
“In making the UPP a community cinema, we’d be making sure that we’re still showing a great range of films and that it remains very close to the community”.
Tom, the cinema’s Marketing & Events Manager, stressed the importance of the UPP’s independence. “It’s about having that freedom to actually take a risk on a more unusual film… we’ve got an amazing audience who are really inquisitive and daring”.
Many of the benefits of independence also manifest off-screen: “I really love working with other independent businesses”. “Having beers provided to us by Big Scary Monsters, an independent beer shop across the road, and having membership deals with independent cafes like G&Ds.”
I’m a huge fan of the UPP, having had a great variety of experiences in the cinema, whether it be a haunting screening of Julia Ducournau’s Titane, or a wholesome classic showing of Back to the Future. So, despite my dire financial situation, I had no hesitation in buying 30 shares in the UPP. Everyone between the ages of 16-29, or those with an OX1, OX3, or OX4 postcode, have the offer of a discounted minimum buy-in of 30 shares for £30.
I still wanted to make sure that I was getting a good return on my investment, so asked what the benefits of buying shares were. “Well, aside from getting to own your own cinema and all the associated bragging rights, you get a say in the state of how your local independent cinema is run.” “You can also put yourself up for the Management Committee where you would be absolutely in charge of governance… helping to decide which audiences we want to develop, what kind of films we want to show, and the general business strategy of the cinema”.
Micaela concluded with “ I think the main thing to just hammer home is that we’ve got a deadline, 1st of July”. “If for any of these reasons you want to get involved and own your own cinema, I’d be quick, because it’s been very popular”. Before Tom finally added “I think having an independent cinema in the town that you’re studying in is such a treat… to not have an independent cinema in the city would be a real kick in the teeth”.
“I think having an independent cinema in the town that you’re studying in is such a treat… to not have an independent cinema in the city would be a real kick in the teeth”.