In our Netflix/Disney+/Apple TV streaming world there’s something very reassuring, very Cinema Paradiso, about the fact a small movie house opening can cause such a joyous stir.
Here we are, on opening night of Sidney’s Star Cinema in its snazzy new digs on Third Street, a good 30 minutes before the first show begins, and there’s already a long lineup outside on this chilly autumn night. And the people are buzzing.
The Star Cinema has been an institution in Sidney for the past couple of decades. It was housed in a somewhat scruffy former ice-packing building until developers bought the site to build a five-storey apartment building. Sidney has become home to many low-rise apartment buildings in recent times.
There were fears the Star might close altogether, but the developers included the theatre in its plans, to the relief of many in Sidney.
The Star, with three screens with a combined 305-seat capacity, now occupies the ground floor.
My wife and I had hoped to see the opening movie Where The Crawdads Sing but owner Sandy Oliver walked along the line, counting, and announced the smallest of the three theatres – with only 60 seats – was already full. But there was still space in the other two theatres,
The next movie to start, in the second largest theatre, was Black Adam, but we plumped for Ticket to Paradise, with George Clooney and Julia Roberts – a rom-com that sounded not too challenging, but a lot of fun.
Like many in Sidney, I have long been a fan of the Star. It has a cozy, friendly feeling, great popcorn, and brings in cool movies, both mainstream and quasi-art house. It has brought in National Theatre Live productions, opera, Victoria film fest movies and lots of British fare – starring the likes of Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy.
Famously, some years ago, they had ordered new seats, but they were the wrong size, so while they awaited replacements they asked their customers to donate armchairs, sofas and lawn chairs to keep things going.
I took my young granddaughter to see the movie Frozen and we ended up squeezing onto an old sofa. During the scary bits, she huddled close for grandfatherly reassurance. We should all go to see movies that way.
In fact I suppose we can – if we choose to stay home. But there’s still something special about heading out for the evening to watch a movie with an audience and popcorn and having to put on shoes and socks and, well, make an effort.
Our movie started almost 45 minutes late. There were opening night problems with the popcorn machine – or an overwhelming demand – and things ran late. Sandy and her staff frantically delivered popcorn to the patrons, yelling out names, and apologized for the delay. But nobody cared.
“Welcome back,” yelled someone from the audience and the whole place applauded. The Star had opened, temporarily, in a building on Fifth Street, but COVID hurt it badly. But now, here we were, close together, very few masks, and the opening of the new Star seemed, somehow, to signal an end to the darkness of the last couple of years.
The movie was silly and fun and Clooney and Roberts chanelled Gable and Lombard and we could have been in a small town cinema in 1947. We saw friends in the audience. Sandy, as ever, was there at the end to make sure we had all enjoyed ourselves. And recycled our popcorn bags and drink cups.
The new Star is spiffier and a tad more stylish than the old Star. As someone once said, you can’t compete with a memory, but this is a place to enjoy and celebrate and be thankful for.
Movie theatres and chains are having a hard time of it these days, but hopefully local, independent movie houses like the Star can buck the streaming trend.
Certainly, many in Sidney hope so. Their beloved Star is back, all sparkly and new.
We loved being back there. May it be here for a long time to come. It’s reassuring and comforting. The Star deserves to shine brightly in this uncertain world.
Ian Haysom is consulting editor with CHEK Media.