Upstairs at the Tyneside Cinema used to be a bar which wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Many people remember it for its bright green paintwork. “Someone described it as being like a sauna on one side and a Tupperware box on the other,” confides press officer Anna Cornelius.
“This,” she adds, surveying what now stands in its place, “is a bit more grown up.”
‘This’ is The Gallery, a dedicated third floor space for artists’ films which the Tyneside describe as “a bold new addition to the vibrant cultural landscape of the North East”.
The Tyneside, the region’s well-loved and widely respected independent cinema, has had an arts programme for more than 10 years and has made its facilities available for the likes of the biennial AV Festival. But this new development makes a firm statement. Art is now part of the Tyneside offer.
The Gallery will be open and free to enter during the day, when moving image artworks that sit outside the cinema mainstream, will be shown. You can wander in and out as you please. You can stay all day if you wish and even indulge in a bottle of the wine bought from the kiosk at the entrance.
Then, in the evening, the raked seating comes out, turning The Gallery into a comfortable little cinema dedicated to largely niche offerings which fit the description of visual art or experimental film. For these evening screenings, tickets will be sold – although not many of them because 33 people will constitute a full house.
The Gallery opens to the public on Friday with a bit of a bang.
Showing during the evening (and during the day in the Tyneside’s conventional auditoriums, the Classic, Electra and Roxy) is 20,000 Days On Earth, the film about and starring Nick Cave, the musician and writer with a larger-than-niche cult following.
Described as a fusion of drama and documentary, 20,000 Days On Earth is also the debut feature film by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. This is a couple who have achieved much in the art world but could be following in the footsteps of Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and Sam Taylor Wood (Nowhere Boy) in triumphing in the world of cinema.
Their Nick Cave film was a wow at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in America, winning the awards for directing and editing. The pair are also shortlisted for this year’s Jarman Award for artist film-makers (the winner of the award, in memory of film-maker Derek Jarman, will be announced in December).
You can see why 20,000 Days On Earth was taken on by Picturehouse Entertainment and granted the kind of cinema distribution deal enjoyed by more overtly commercial releases.
Jane Pollard is from Newcastle. She and Iain (he’s from Manchester; they met and studied in London) exhibited at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2008 when Run For Me, about the previous year’s Great North Run, was shown.
But thanks to The Gallery, Tyneside is not just offering the Nick Cave feature. During the day, in the new space which was the green sauna bar, you can see the latest Pollard/Forsyth creation, a film called EDIT which features the music of Joe McAlinden and a story by Martin McCardie.
EDIT (that’s ‘tide’ backwards, points out Anna Cornelius, and a clue to the inspiration behind the film) got a showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival but this is its first extended run.
Overseeing The Gallery is Elisabetta Fabrizi, the Tyneside’s first curator of screen-based media, and she is thrilled by the new facility with its cinema-quality digital projector.
“To be honest, I think this is unique,” she says.
“I can’t think of anywhere else that has a place like this. There are video arts viewing boxes in various galleries but this is a dedicated gallery space with a commissioning budget during the day and a proper cinema in the evening.
“You do get cinemas in London that do occasional arts events or project artists’ work but this is different. That’s why I wanted the job.”
Elisabetta must have seemed perfectly qualified for it. She was part of Baltic’s curatorial team from 2004-7 and then moved to London to be head of exhibitions at the British Film Institute.
She jumped at the chance to return to North East. “They were looking for a curator to help draw up the remit for the new space and put together the programme.
“A lot of the decisions had been made but there was still time to discuss the details and we worked with people across the film and art worlds so it could function in a way that would suit both.”
Elisabetta says: “Maybe, because I used to work at Baltic, it was meant to be. I still come to Newcastle a lot and and love the place and have a lot of friends there and this was a lovely thing to be involved in. I used to spend so much time at the Tyneside, especially in the beginning when I didn’t have many friends in the North East. It is a very friendly place and a good place to hang out.”
Followed wide-ranging discussions and research into the cultural ‘ecology’ of the area, Elisabetta came up with a programme for The Gallery that will change quite quickly, every two or three weeks, and complement the cinema programme. She stresses that her championing of screen-based media is not limited to The Gallery but will embrace all areas of the Tyneside.
Having worked closely with North East artist Graham Dolphin when at Baltic, it was she who commissioned him to create a new mural, Dialogue, in the Tyneside Bar Café, the recently-opened ground floor facility which gives the cinema a new entrance on Pilgrim Street.
Dialogue, if you look closely, comprises 30,000 hand-written words of classic bar scene dialogue from almost 100 films including It’s a Wonderful Life and Star Wars.
Elisabetta, who sudied art history and film at the University of Bologna, talks passionately about her specialist field and in a way that won’t deter those who find art a bit tricky or even off-putting. This knack was noted and appreciated when she worked at Baltic.
She says she didn’t come from an arty family but would spent Sundays as a teenager hanging out at a cinema in her native city of Pisa.
It was there that she first saw the cult Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire, and developed a bit of a thing for Nick Cave (he and his band the Bad Seeds appear in the film as themselves).
Cave’s album The Good Son was the first one she ever bought and When Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard made an earlier film about it, Elisabetta was one of the many people they interviewed on film.
Elisabetta says she met him once through her work at the BFI. “I’m not star-struck usually but with Nick Cave it was, wow! I was a bit star-struck but he was so nice. He said he was the same when he met Bob Dylan.”
Tonight’s Tyneside Cinema screening of 20,000 Hours On Earth, including a satellite link-up live performance by Nick Cave and a question-and-answer session with Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth, is sold out.
But the film opens at the venue on Friday, coinciding with the opening of The Gallery and showing there in the evening following the daytime showings of EDIT. More exiciting offerings have been lined up for The Gallery. Keep an eye on www.tynesidecinema.co.uk