Cinemas that Made Me: Anna Navas from Plymouth Arts Cinema

18 Jun 2020 in Cinemas That Made Me

7 mins
Plymouth Arts Centre's Director and Programmer Anna Navas
Plymouth Arts Centre's Director and Programmer Anna Navas

With cinemas still closed due to COVID-19, we're excited to be celebrating venues and cinema operators across the UK in our series, Cinemas that Made Me. This week we're spotlighting Plymouth Arts Cinema and its Director and Programmer, Anna Navas.

Plymouth Arts Cinema (PAC) is the city's only independent cinema, and screens world cinema, arthouse films and the best of the mainstream. Director and Programmer Anna Navas and her team have built a deserved reputation for celebrating female filmmakers and championing gender equality in the film industry. We spoke to Anna about her life in film - from queuing up for the original Star Wars release to her proudest moments at PAC.

How did you start out working in the world of cinema?

This was my first job in a cinema! Unless you count my very brief stint as a volunteer usher when I was a student. I gave that up after one session because you had to stand in front of the audience and tell them that they couldn't smoke. I was so shy I found it impossible. I started at PAC as a part-time programmer and the role just grew until I am where I am now as Director and Programmer.

Lately I've been thinking about how important going to the cinema has been throughout my life. The films I remember most - the ones which have had the biggest impact on me - have all been ones I saw at the cinema. And memories of who I went with are inextricably linked with that.

Anna Navas, Plymouth Arts Cinema

Before PAC, which cinemas had an important impact on you?

As a very young child I used to go to the ABC Cinema in Newport, South Wales. My Dad would pick me up from school and we'd go and see films regularly - pretty much anything that was playing. I also remember queuing up for hours to see Star Wars at the Studio 1 & 2 cinema when it was first released. I went with my cousin and it was the single most exciting thing that had ever happened to us. I can still remember exactly what I was wearing; the memory is seared so vividly in my mind.

In my student days I discovered a whole other world when I came to Plymouth. Back home there just weren't places to see foreign language films or anything outside the mainstream, so finding a whole new film viewing culture felt like a revelation. To say it changed my life feels a bit dramatic but it really did have that kind of impact on me.

Have those venues affected how you work today?

Most definitely! When I go to the cinema I want the experience to be immersive. I want to be able to forget everything apart from what's on screen; I want the outside world to disappear. As a child, that's what cinema was all about, and as an adult it also became about feeling welcomed into a different world. Part of feeling welcomed in that way is about the atmosphere of relaxed inclusiveness you get at Indy cinemas. I want to feel okay going alone. I want to feel that there are friendly faces; to encounter things that make me feel comfortable, but also surprised and challenged. 

Early cinema experiences were about the excitement of disappearing in front of the big screen and that's also what it has felt like as an adult. I want cinema to feel like that for everyone who comes to PAC.

What initiatives are you most proud of working on at PAC?

I'm very proud of the work we have been doing with Reclaim the Frame in the past two years. It feels important work, but also so much fun. These are BFI-backed screenings of films written and directed by women, accompanied by post-screening talks and often featuring special guests.

A few years ago we ran a project that looked at the history of cinemas in Plymouth and worked with Age UK to interview lots of people about their cinema-going memories. We spoke to a woman who remembered, as a child, having to be taken out of the cinema during an air raid in the War. It was wonderful to hear memories of the joy that going to the cinema brought to so many different people. 

While PAC is closed due to COVID-19, have you begun any new initiatives to reach audiences at home?

We have been putting a lot of content online so that people can still watch things. We've screened short films, archive films, all sorts of treats. We have also started Sofa Cinema - we select a film for people to watch in their own time and then we gather online to chat about it. We've had some great engagement with this and we try to select a wide range of films so there's something for everyone. We've also been promoting Reclaim the Frame's online events to our audience.

Once cinemas reopen which film would be your first choice to see on the big screen?

Such a difficult question. At this point in time I'd watch anything! Well, almost anything. Maybe a great double-bill of a sparkling old classic like The Philadelphia Story and something I was really looking forward to screening to audiences, System Crasher. I honestly can't wait.

To learn more about PAC and for thoughtful reflection on the impact of lockdown closures, we recommend Anna's blog posts on the landscape of independent cinema and missing the cinema.

If you'd like to support Plymouth Arts Cinema at this difficult time, you can become a member or donate. If you'd like to support other independent cinemas in the UK, consider donating to the UK Cinema Fund. These donations will be added to the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund and used to offer critical relief and business continuity to exhibitors across the UK.

This Article is part of: Cinemas That Made Me

A series celebrating cinemas, venues and exhibitors across the UK.

View other Articles in this column

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