Ronnie Williams is a founder member of the North Berwick Cinema Club and NBMovies. He still serves on the committee. Here are his words on the history of North Berwick Cinema Club and NBMovies.
“The story begins in the Auld Hoose bar on Forth Street with three members of the Scottish Seabird Centre Support Group. Dave Berry, Clive Baker and myself, Ronnie Williams. While discussing what we could do with the recently opened Scottish Seabird Centre Clive says “What about a community Cinema in the Auditorium” – the rest is history. This was in 2000. Our first screening was in November and was “American Beauty” starring Kevin Spacey…it was a sell out.
We formed a committee and decided upon the name North Berwick Cinema Club. Our aim would be to bring cinema back to North Berwick after the closure in 1984 of the town’s last cinema ‘The Playhouse’. Since then we have shown over 200 films, including mainstream blockbusters, some classics, foreign language films, animations, and local Scottish films.
We built up a membership of over 400 who paid an annual subscription as well as buying tickets for each screening. We produced a film programme for each year. This was a very demanding task which involved booking the films, sourcing each film , editing, publishing and distributing the programmes. We slowly established ourselves as East Lothian’s foremost film society and affiliated to the British Federation of Film Societies. Our enthusiasm knew no bounds, we were ambitious and decided we needed to spread our wings within the North Berwick community – so that would require mobile equipment.
The BFFS helped us with advice and expertise. In 2004, with lottery funding, we staged a spectacular outdoor event at North Berwick harbour with a 35mm projector mounted on the Seabird Centre balcony. We projected “Singing in the Rain” onto a full size cinema screen mounted on a scaffold, to a non-paying audience of about 800 people.
We repeated this success the next year with a further outdoor screening of Grease only this time it was financed from bar takings and a contribution from Club funds.
We had one more outdoor screening a few years later, Shrek, and financed it ourselves. By this time we were becoming bogged down with safety assessments and decided having 1000 people in the harbour area in dark conditions was difficult to justify on safety grounds.
National Lottery’s Awards for All helped us to buy our original kit: digital projector (which we still have in full working order), a 12ft wide screen, DVD player and sound equipment. With this, NB Movies embraced the opportunity to show films at a wide range of venues in our community to support other local interest groups and to help with charity fundraising for the RNLI, Music Therapy Group and the Youth Café to name just a few. By working with the Youth Café we also helped it to get grants to refurbish the Hope Rooms – it now has in-built projection and sound equipment. The council, seeing an opportunity, decided to totally upgrade the Hope Rooms. It’s interesting that this all came about following a conversation in the Auld Hoose! We moved from the Seabird Centre and settled into the Hope Rooms. We were outgrowing the capacity of venues so this necessitated double screenings.
Due to capacity constraints we subsequently moved to the Freemasons Hall which could seat around 85 and came with a bar built in! This move required us at each screening to mount and de-mount our 12 foot screen which now seemed on the small side for our
increased audience so we sourced and installed a much larger 4.5m electric screen.
In order to keep up with the advance in digital technology NB Movies made a major investment towards improving the standard of our screenings. We purchased a new Full HD projector, Blu-Ray player to enable HD screening and new High Fidelity sound equipment with the help of Audio Light Systems Ltd. While our screenings at the Freemasons Hall were often sold out we were never able to provide satisfactory disabled access so a search began for a larger more accessible venue. After visits to several venues we concluded an agreement with the Community Centre to move there bringing and installing our updated equipment.
While the Community Centre’s main hall provided a suitably sized venue where our projector, screen and sound equipment could be installed, it’s acoustics were dreadful so a huge upgrade was arranged which included installing sound absorbing panels throughout the hall. The cost was significant and was possible thanks to a grant from The North Berwick Trust together with a contribution from the Community Centre, an anonymous donor, and our own reserve fund.
We have also installed a hearing loop with the help of a grant from the Stella Moffat Trust..
As well as our routine monthly screenings we have tried to make some of them special events.For our Bollywood night, we teamed up with the Leith Indian community who cooked us a fabulous supper to accompany the screening of “Lagaan”. Also, working with Transition North Berwick, NB Movies helped to promote environmental awareness with a short festival of beautiful and thought-provoking films. We hosted a Mini International Film Festival at the Freemasons Hall as part of North Berwick’s Fringe by the Sea. This is an event we hope to repeat in future years! We have shown silent films with organ accompaniment at St Baldred’s Church. Films have included ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. All monies raised went to the Church Organ Fund.
When we moved to the larger premises at the Freemasons hall we decided to open up our films to everyone rather than restricted to subscribers and their guests so we dropped our membership
subscription and relied on ticket sales to fund our screenings. Our email list expanded rapidly in consequence growing to over 600 at the point where we again moved to the Community Centre.
We have a very active committee who meet monthly to choose the films, organise the events and plan ahead. We are now in our 23rd year and have a growing number of patrons. What will the future bring……a new cinema for North Berwick? “
Pictures and videos supplied by Robin MacEwen.