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Solo Features

Light House lights up again

When the Light House Cinema opened its doors in Smithfield last month, it marked the end of a 12 year absence from Dublin’s cultural landscape. Now it’s back and it’s brighter than ever.

It’s hard to believe that it’s over a decade now since the Light House Cinema lit up the north side of city centre Dublin. In its previous incarnation the pioneering cinema was a two-screen one on Middle Abbey Street that first opened its doors in 1988 and saw the final curtain fall in 1996. And while the decision to close wasn’t such a happy one, there was a feeling at the same time that the end as we knew it was inevitable.
“In the long term it wasn’t very sustainable,” Light House Cinema director Maretta Dillon told Solo. “People remember it affectionately but its day was coming.”
With the closure of the Middle Abbey Street venue12 years ago, a lot of different spaces were looked at, however it wasn’t until the Smithfield option arose that a new Light House was conceived. Now the cinema is appropriately located in trendy Smithfield Square, which has become home to a variety of shops, bars and markets in recent years. As a colourful, four-screen, 600-seat commercially operated cultural cinema, it intends to presents a diverse and individual programme of the best Irish, independent, foreign-language, arthouse and classic cinema. According the its mission statement, the Light House Cinema is ‘committed to championing films of quality from original, creative film makers’ and it ‘passionately support cultural diversity and personal expression in world cinema’. The overall aim is to firmly establish the new venue as a springboard for wider distribution of independent, world cinema in Ireland. Indeed the current line up features the Lebanon (Caramel), Italy (My Brother is an Only Child) and France (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), to name but a few.
The Light House Cinema took root back in 1988 when Dublin department store Arnotts bought the Curzon Cinema in Middle Abbey Street. While Arnotts always had long term plans for change and expansion, it needed a caretaker for the vacant cinema in the interim while it built up its property portfolio. And so the Light House was born. Operating on a limited budget it actually survived for eight years, operating two screens in Middle Abbey Street and showing the sort of unconventional films that may never have otherwise been seen by Dublin audiences. The cinema became known as one of the city’s most vibrant and valuable cultural institutions. And the reason for this? Well, because it ‘broke the rules and ‘defied the commercial marketeers’, it says, making it an ‘arthouse with an audience’. The Light House built its reputation showcasing films that were a bit different from the mainstream and in the process it introduced Irish audiences to the work of the likes of Ang Lee and Jane Campion. In its heyday one of its big commercial successes was Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s first feature film, December Bride.
The last movies screened in Middle Abbey Street in September 1996 and it has taken until now for it to reopen. The challenge was to re-invent ‘a cultural beacon in the north inner-city’ and those behind the project believe that this has now been achieved.
According to Maretta Dillon and her fellow director Neil Connolly, the job got done with the support of a lot of people.
“We were fortunate that David Collins, MD of Samson Films and David Kavanagh, chief executive of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, accepted our invitation to join the Light House board as non-executive directors,” they said. This brought vital additional experience and skills to the table, pushing things forward when they might have fallen by the wayside. Without them, we would not have been able to bring the project to fruition.”
The new Light House is a visual treat, which is as spacious as it is engaging.
“One of the things we didn’t have before was social space,” said Dillon. “It was quite cramped on Middle Abbey Street. But we’ve buckets of it now.”
There is lots of recreational room as well as a café-style area offering teas, coffees and pastries. It is hoped that this will be expanded in time.
So seeing that here at Solo we are all about embracing singledom, so does Maretta Dillon recommend the Light House as a solo destination?
“I certainly do,” she said. “I think going to the cinema on your own is a wonderful thing to do – day or night. It’s a great time to chill out. Sometimes you don’t want to be talking.”
Indeed nobody wants to be chit-chatting the whole way through a film anyway.”
The Light House Cinema at Smithfield is part-funded by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Cultural Cinema Consortium, a strategic partnership of The Arts Council and the Irish Film Board. It is located at Market Square, Smithfield, Dublin 7. Tickets can be bought online 24 hours a day – for more information visit www.lighthousecinema.ie.

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