On being invited to the Dunkirk 35mm Screening, I was offered the opportunity to speak to Allan, a projectionist that has worked at Hyde Park Picture House for the last 17 years. We talked about how the machine's worked, changes in the industry and some of his favourite films...
"I started when I was 15, a friend of mine worked at the cinema in Bradford and they wanted someone to help out. It is a profession where it is solely on the job training. I have taught a few of our projectionists we have in house. I can usually tell within one lesson if it will be something that the person can handle. It can range in time how long it takes to learn, a bit like driving. It is heavily dependent on a person's aptitude and also, how much time they have available."
Naturally, with the evolution of technology the role has changed somewhat. "Everyone begins on film, even today. You can't master one without the other. The teacher became the taught, it took me a while to get my head around digital film. I set up the shows for the coming week in advance, it is automated but, you have to tell it what to do in the first place. Placing things like adverts, dimming and brightening the lights, opening and closing the curtains and remember to turn off the sound at the end!"
He walks me over to the canisters that have carried the film, he points and continues to explain the process, "Dunkirk came on five seperate reels with a total runtime of one hour and forty seven minutes." Turning to the cameras, he places his hand on the camera, "The first three reels go in the first camera on the far left, the last two go in this one. You have to change over part way through the film from one camera to the next, this can produce a joint if not done correctly. When it was shown to me, I didn't notice a change - hopefully, you won't tonight."
To me, this seemed like a bit tedious but Alan quelled my objections, "When the Sound of Music was shown on 70mm at the Majestic in Leeds, it played for two and a half years. People came from far and wide to watch it, it was seen as a real outing. I think what Hyde Park does and the audience it attracts crave that kind of nostalgia. It's a real pleasure to watch 'real film'. It produces a different kind of movement, digital has this perfection to it, I prefer the texture that can only be achieved on film."
Although there is a carefully crafted rota to ensure there is always someone on hand to project, Alan does have some down time. I asked him what films had stuck with him over the years, "some of my favorites were The Big Country, Lawrence of Arabia and South Pacific. We feel privileged to be showing this format of the film, although as it's brand new print, there are no glitches and it sounds great on the 5.1 digital surround."
I then made my way downstairs and was ushered to my seat, the lights dimmed and the film began. Alan was right, I wouldn't and didn't notice the change in camera, I looked hard throughout. Faultless. It was great to see the film in it's intended format by the director, Christopher Nolan.