This cinema doesn't just show films it makes them

Palace Cinema owner Lara Hewitt with cinema dog Bruce
Palace Cinema owner Lara Hewitt with cinema dog Bruce

Filmmaker Lara Hewitt has a new and grand ambition. After “rescuing“ a cinema she is turning her talent to making a third film for Christmas release. FIONA FINCH reports on how she is also completing a film about love and loss and Europe amid Brexit.

The Palace cinema doesn’t just show movies - its owner is making them too.

Lara Hewitt, owner of one of the most historic cinemas in the region has revealed plans to make a full length movie and she intends to seek crowd-funding cash to make the screen dream come true.

The seed of an idea to make the film was planted following the success of a nostalgic Christmas ad Lara made to promote her Longridge cinema last year.

It has since had some 15,000 views on YouTube and featured on TV.

Lara said: “People really took to it and I just really wanted to harness the enthusiasm and groundswell behind the Christmas film and keep running.”

But the financial realities of operating a cinema and film making are never far from the door.

Lara said: “We have to look at what’s actually possible with a budget. It makes it a lot easier and cheaper to film if you just keep it very local. We could film it this winter (next November/December) ready for release at Christmas 2021 - that’s pretty quick for a feature film.”

The popular Christmas Palace ad comprised a nostalgic celebration of the cinema. It featured a widower remembering the key role the Palace had played in his life,including his courtship and marriage...and concluded with his grandchildren arriving to enjoy a film with him.

To finance her new project Lara is hoping supporters will buy advance premier tickets for £25 with red carpet VIP treatment and a glass of fizz, £10 for a regular ticket with tea and popcorn and pay up in advance to buy dvds and signed posters. Even with such support she estimates the film could still cost £40,000 to make.

She is working on the fine detail of the crowdfunding and said: “It would still have to be done on a budget using local people prepared to act for free (then) we would have money to pay for post-production. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good British Christmas film I think.”

Lara continued: “I’ve got to write a script yet and cast people. I’m working on another film at the moment and I’ve got the cinema to do as well.”

She is delighted that Stephan Bookas, who filmed and edited the Christmas ad, has come on board for the project. She said: “He’s been coming up to the Palace since March 2018 and he’s making a documentary about the Palace as well.I did my first feature film with him called Datsche.”

She emphasises she is also looking for people’s stories on the basis that truth is often more entertaining than fiction: “The nice thing with a small town is finding the universal in the specific. You’ve got the world in a small scale you can capture. The cinema of course is a great venue. ”

Meanwhile Lara is busy editing what she calls her “Goodbye Europe” film.”

She said: “The Goodbye Europe film will be very different because it’s a ‘run and gun’ documentary. It’s an iPhone travel documentary, rough and ready. I went to France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia, Austria and Italy. I’ve got a bit more to film in England now. I’m submitting it to festivals and sending my wishes up to the Gods it will be accepted because it’s such a timely piece.”

A self-confessed European and anti-Brexiteer she said: “It really doesn’t matter what side people voted. It’s just about marking this moment in time... We’ve been in this union 43 years and (we’re) leaving. It’s also kind of personal, not just about Brexit, it’s about how we say goodbye to things and people and places we’ve loved and how we move on. It’s about love and loss ...It’s got everything from politics in Brussels to Italian romance and it’s also about my dad as well. He voted for Brexit. All my life I was a European. “

Of the EU departure the 38-year-old said: “We were together for 43 years - longer than I’ve been alive and we won’t be. That’s worth marking from a personal and emotional level. My life has been lived in Europe. I started travelling independently and with my own money and getting work in Europe in the sixth form - my whole adult life. For me we’re losing citizenship as well.”

Lara has lived in Germany and France and in her 20s worked as a blues singer in Austria. It was the cinema project which brought her back to the UK. It was to be a joint project with her businessman father Tony, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in December 2017.

Since then Lara has worked to revive the cinema’s fortunes, introducing more live shows, extra screening times and dementia and autism friendly and signed screenings, a book club, a writing group and other initiatives. She said: “Our sales were up last year on the previous year,but we still didn’t make a profit . We are hoping this year we will break even.”

She is now editing and working on post-production of her European film which has a special co-star - Bruce the cinema dog. She said: “It’s got heart and it’s got a dog and a camper van. It’s me going around Europe. It’s like a love story.”

The flat-coated retriever holds a special place in her heart. Lara was en route to Scotland to collect Bruce as a new puppy when she got the call her dad was dying: “I had to get to the RPH (Royal Preston Hospital) and dad died.Then I had to get back up to Scotland to get this dog. Bruce has gone through it all with me. Now he went though Brexit and slept by my side.”

Lara returned to mainland Europe for two weeks just before Brexit, travelling to Greece and through the Balkans. She discussed the following question with a friend in Athens:“What would you do if you knew you had the time to say goodbye?”

She added: “I didn’t have the time to do that with my dad. We never got the time to say the things you want to say.”