TIME OUT "the best movie night in town"
CINÉ-REAL is the only film club in the UK to exclusively play films in 16mm format. The film night was founded by Oscar long-listed Director Liam Saint-Pierre and Projectionist, Ümit Mesut, of Ümit & Son. Liam curates the films & Ümit masters the projection for a unique viewing experience.
How it began
In 2011 on a cold October night, I was walking back to my flat in Hackney, feeling sorry for myself after a breakup, when I came across an old super 8 projector lying in a bin. Seeing this as a sign from the cinematic gods (I had always loved film) I wiped off the used teabags and banana peel and carried it home. The projector looked in good condition, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t get it to work.
The next day, as the projector sat lifeless on the kitchen table, I remembered there was an interesting shop in Hackney called Ümit & Son. To say it specialised in super 8 and 16mm film projection was an understatement, it was a veritable museum to everything celluloid with stacks of film cans, videocassettes and old movie posters. If I was going to get the projector running, this was the place.
I popped the projector into my rucksack and headed in. Ümit & Son lies on a busy street, squashed in between a chicken shop and the local leisure centre. With a faded sign out front and old film reels hanging above the window, it looked like something out of the past. Well it had been there for 30 years I was later to learn.
As I navigated the narrow path into the shop, between an old moviola and stacks of film books, I was met at the counter by a friendly man in his early fifties with a moustache and an ice cream curl of hair on a slightly balding head. This was Ümit Mesut, a passionate, friendly, life-long film fanatic who had got the bug as a child watching his grandfather work the projector back in their small cinema in Cyprus.
As Ümit tended to the projector (free of charge) we talked about the beauty of celluloid and bemoaned the lack of places to watch film on film. Ümit, ever the salesman, skilfully informed me that though 8mm was good, 16mm was even better (double the size!) and though my super 8mm projector was now restored, didn’t I want to upgrade to 16mm to watch film in all its glory?
As luck would have it, he had just the machine, an old Bell & Howell with new belts; at £250 it was a bargain. Inspired by the conversation I bought the projector and decided then and there to set up a film night where we would show feature films projected on 16mm, keeping the art of film projection alive. Full of confidence I asked Ümit to be the projectionist, and was surprised by his answer “No”. He’d done private screenings before, but they were always small; he’d felt awkward doing it in front of a crowd. It just wasn’t for him at the moment, but if I did want to do it he’d be able to supply the prints. So I hired a 16mm copy of Jaws, got some basic tips of Ümit, lugged the pair of projectors home and hoped that this was a good idea.
The first screening took place in a small gallery attended by friends. After I introduced the film I got to work loading the projector (I’d gone for the autoload option). The film comes on 3 separate reels so there were a couple of changeovers. The first couple of reels went smoothly, people seemed to be enjoying the film and I was relaxed enough to have a couple of glasses of wine.
By the time Jaws shows up in the final reel things started going wrong. I was having to deal with jumping splices along with warbling sound (not that easy after two glasses of wine and no experience) and though the audience were accommodating (entertaining each other with games of charades whilst I battled on), it was not a great success.
The following day I returned to the shop and after a bit of persuading, Ümit agreed to come to the next screening as a kind of ‘projectionist’s mentor’. Despite his initial resistance, Ümit loved the night. It still gave him a buzz to lace up the old projector, watch the warm glow of celluloid fill the big screen and listen to the audience’s reactions to the movie. He was excited by how many people were still interested in film and shared his passion. Since then Ümit has been the projectionist at CINÉ-REAL where we have shown 16mm films for the last 9 years, screening 120 times for crowds as big 250 people in an old East End music hall.
Before each screening we do an introduction where I talk a bit about the film. When we first started I’d do this by myself, as Ümit was too shy. However, after a year or so Ümit built up the courage and now fills the audience in on the print, where it was from, what stock they used and so on. He quickly got hang of it and now loves to share his passion and insights with the audience. It never ceases to make people smile.
When we screen the films, we keep the projector in the cinema so people can see it working and get a feel for the magic of analogue film. As the prints are often over 50 years old there is an element of danger to the screenings where old cement splices can break and the film needs to be repaired on the spot. For this Ümit likes to go on the clock and gets the audience to time him as he repairs the break, always with the goal of less than three minutes.
When the lights go down on a packed house and the projector begins to whirr, an energy of anticipation fills the air. As I watch Ümit work the projector in the dark, the beams of light illuminating the screen, the sound of people’s laughter in the crowd, it feels like we’ve created our very own cinema Paridiso.
At the end of the evening, after a few final words from me and Ümit, we have a raffle. People’s seat numbers are their ticket and the prizes range from specially designed Cine-real tote bags to super 8mm film prints. Ever the salesman Ümit hopes whoever wins the super 8mm print will pop into the shop the next day and buy a projector “So it’s win, win”.
There are already lots of alternative screenings and cinemas, well especially in London, where there is a desire for a more unique screening experience. However, I’m not sure if there will be many that project film. With 16mm it’s getting harder to find the prints (this often what determines which films we can show) and as they age some of them begin to lose colour, which sometimes means we can’t screen certain prints. Though you never know, if a demand builds, like we saw with vinyl, then things may change. There is something about the feel of analogue that you just don’t get with digital. It’s like the difference between sitting in front of an open fire compared to a radiator.
After the early years of screening films under damp railway arches, small bars and old working men’s clubs, 3 years ago we moved into our permanent residency at the beautiful Castle Cinema where we’ve been selling out screenings every month for the last couple of years, with lots of regular faces and a sense of a community helping our fight to keep film alive.
After all our events were cancelled by Covid-19 for the first part of the year we decided to set up a podcast. After taking a few minutes to explain to Ümit what a podcast was (a kind of episodic radio show) he was game. So we’ve now done three episodes and everyone takes a deeper look at the film we are going to show that month. Whether it’s talking to the screenwriter of Jaws about the making of the film or discussing the ground breaking musical score of King Kong with it’s composer’s biographer, with each episode we’re hoping to share our love of film with a wider audience.
Over the last few months we’ve also loved getting back into the cinema. People’s appetite for the celluloid experience has not waned - last month we sold out for 4 screenings, returning to the first print I showed; Jaws, now 45 years since it’s release (I’m happy to say it went smoothly and only tea was drank).
We love our home at the beautiful Castle Cinema which is a perfect match for CINÉ-REAL! Before then there have been quite a lot that we’ve loved, however one that stands out was the screening of Sunset Boulevard to 250 people at the Wilton’s Music Hall in Tower Hamlets. If you’ve not been it’s a grand 19th Century building with a balcony, ornate pillars and deep red curtains. Seeing Umit work the projector with the crowd below felt like we were in our very own cinema Paridiso.
There is something about the feel of analog that you just don’t get with digital. It’s like the difference between sitting in front of an open fire compared to a radiator. We chose 16mm over 35mm as it was easier to get the prints. There are also lots on super 8mm, but they’re often abridged and come on 8 reels!
He's been projecting film for the last 50 years. When we first started Liam would introduce the film, as Umit was too shy. However, after a year or so Ümit began to get up and talk about the print, where it was from, what stock they used and so on. He quickly got hang of it and loves to share his passion and insights with the audience, it never ceases to make people smile.
The future of Cinema
There are already lots of alternative screenings and cinema’s, well especially in London, where there’s a desire for a more unique screening experience. However, I’m not sure if they’ll be many that project film. With 16mm it’s getting harder to find the prints (this often what determines which films we can show) and as they age some of them begin to lose colour, which sometimes means we can’t screen certain prints. Though you never know, if a demand builds, like we saw with vinyl, then things may change.