‘We don’t need another bar’: St Andrews film fans take on Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake

Celebrity plan to turn a much-loved retro cinema into a sports bar faces stiff opposition from thousands of angry movie goers

 

 

In central St Andrews, the New Picture House (NPH) independent cinema, with its 1930s facade and distinctive pointed roof towering above nearby restaurants and houses, has stood relatively unchanged for the past 94 years.

 

Open every day of the week and boasting three screens, the category B listed building has showed blockbusters and independent films, as well as plays, community events and festivals, for the best part of a century.

 

But it will soon be closing its doors, to be replaced by a luxury sports bar run by two celebrities – golfer Tiger Woods and pop star Justin Timberlake – and local opposition is growing.

 

In the days following the announcement last October, an online petition opposing the plans amassed thousands of signatures. Last month, a peaceful protest organised jointly by St Andrews film society and St Andrews film festival saw film lovers flock to the cinema in an attempt to ensure screenings of movies such as Mean Girls and American Fiction were sold out, in an effort to demonstrate to the owners that the cinema was financially viable.

 

 It fills me with such despair to see yet another venue in Scotland, where culture is public and accessible, threatened with closure

 

However, both owners have indicated that they intend to progress with the project. Plans from Woods and Timberlake, who have already teamed up to launch a dining and entertainment brand, T-Squared Social, in New York City’s Manhattan, outline their aim to convert it into a gastropub with televised sports and golf simulators, keeping one screen for new cinema releases. The plans have been endorsed by one of its directors, David Morris, who said dwindling ticket sales meant the cinema was no longer viable.

 

“The news of the closure was devastating to everyone in St Andrews,” said St Andrews film society president Ash Johann Curry-Machado, who is 22 and in his final year of a film studies degree at the university. “The NPH is a crucial pillar of our community, and that’s why we all came together, because the cinema really does mean a lot to all of us.

 

“As our only cinema, it’s imperative we protect it at all costs because we simply don’t have an alternative that doesn’t involve travelling to Dundee or further. If the NPH is experiencing financial difficulties, it’s our duty as a community to improve it and reach a wider audience, not just entirely give up on it.”

 

The film society and its supporters were engaging with local councillors and MSPs on the issue, he said.

 

Among those supporting the petition are many who credit the NPH for careers in film and the arts.

 

“It fills me with such despair to see yet another venue in Scotland where culture is public and accessible being threatened with closure, especially in a small place with a thriving student population,” said writer and director Cat Macleod, who graduated in English and film from St Andrews University in 2011. “[Another bar] is the last thing the town needs.”

 

Freelance arts critic Dominic Corr still lives in St Andrews, where he grew up, and said his first experience of the NPH was seeing Disney’s Mulan in 1998 with his dad.

 

“NPH offered the opportunity to experience cinema with peers and the community of film students from the university, families, and older audiences, away from the heavily commercial dressings of larger chain cinemas in faraway cities,” he said.

 

But some locals back the development. One woman who asked not to be named told the Observer: “It’s a private business and the owners can do what they like with it as far as I’m concerned. It’s exciting for the place to be spoken about alongside big celebrities like this.”

 

NPH owners did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for T-Squared Social said the venue had not been viable for years, with less than 10% occupancy.

 

“The involvement of T-Squared Social not only allows a cinema offering to be retained in St Andrews, but indeed the building itself, through the delivery of a blended cinema, dining and entertainment offering.

 

“We have listened to the feedback from the community and will shortly be able to announce our revised proposals prior to the submission of a planning application to Fife council.”

 

 

Gideon Canice

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