TIME OUT "the best movie night in town"

Established in 2011, CINÉ-REAL is the only film club in the UK to exclusively play films on 16mm. 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. 

We search the planet to find our prints and love sharing the magic of celluloid with our audiences, building a community of film lovers and film makers together.

How it began

In 2011 on a cold October night, Liam was walking back to his flat in Hackney when he came across an old super 8 projector lying in a bin. Seeing this as a sign from the cinematic gods (he had always loved film) he wiped off the used teabags and banana peel and carried it home. The projector looked in good condition, but as much as he tried, he couldn’t get it to work.

The next day, as the projector sat lifeless on the kitchen table, he 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 he was going to get the projector running, this was the place.

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.

As Liam navigated the narrow path into the shop, between an old moviola and stacks of film books, he 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) they talked about the beauty of celluloid and bemoaned the lack of places to watch film projected on film. Ümit, ever the salesman, skilfully informed Liam that though 8mm was good, 16mm was even better (double the size!) and though the super 8mm projector was now restored, didn’t he want to upgrade to 16mm to watch film in all its glory?

As luck would have it, Ümit had just the machine, an old Bell & Howell with new belts; at £350 it was a bargain. Inspired by the conversation Liam bought the projector and decided then and there to set up a film night where they would show feature films projected on 16mm, keeping the art of film projection alive. Full of confidence he asked Ümit to be the projectionist, and was surprised by his answer “No”. Ümit had done a few 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 Liam did want to do it he’d be able to supply the prints. So Liam 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 Liam's friends. After he introduced the film he got to work loading the projector (he'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 he 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. Liam 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 he battled on), it was not a great success.

The following day he 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 they have shown 16mm films for the last 12years, screening 160 times for crowds as big 250 people.

Before each screening they do an introduction where they talk a bit about the film. When they first started Ümit was too shy, however, after a year or so Ümit 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 they screen the films, they 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 Ümit works the projector in the dark, the beams of light illuminating the screen, the sound of people’s laughter in the crowd, it feels like they've created their very own cinema Paridiso.

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.

At the end of the evening, after a few final words from Liam and Ümit, they 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, not many project on 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 they can’t screen certain prints.

After the early years of screening films under damp railway arches, small bars and old working men’s clubs, 6 years ago they moved into their permanent residency at the beautiful Castle Cinema where they’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.

Liam Saint-Pierre


A short film about our projectionist Ümit Mesut.

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