Cinemas that Made Me: Rosie Greatorex from the Lexi in North London

25 Jun 2020

8 mins
The Lexi Cinema, London
The Lexi Cinema, London

With cinemas closed due to COVID-19, we're excited to be celebrating venues and cinema operators across the UK in our Cinemas that Made Me series. This week we're highlighting the Lexi Cinema in North West London, an independent venue that donates 100% of their profits to charity, as well as providing a vital and growing hub for the local community.

The Lexi's motto is ‘More than just great cinema' - a vision that is certainly delivered through the vast array of community projects they run, host and facilitate. Since closing in March, the Lexi has moved some initiatives online, but they've also been using their time and space to find new ways of providing connection and support to their community at this crucial time.

Cinema and Programme Director Rosie Greatorex filled us in on the Lexi's mission, plans to add a second screen and community hub space, and memories of her career in film exhibition so far.

What makes the Lexi unique, and what do you offer audiences?

The Lexi is the UK's first social enterprise cinema and our front of house is run by a team of 50 local volunteers, from all walks of life. All profits go directly to charity and we run many community projects alongside a first-run film programme. We screen mainstream, independent and world cinema, and host a diverse programme of special screenings including Black history studies, a women-only refugee film club, and events for LGBT seniors, carers and the hard of hearing. 

Cinema is a place for connection as well as escapism, and we need both more than ever at the moment.

Rosie Greatorex, Cinema and Programme Director, The Lexi Cinema

How do you plan to use your new screen and hub space?

Over the last year the Lexi team have worked hard to secure funds for our next step - The Lexi Hub. We're proud to have received the top award of a £50,000 pledge from Sadiq Khan's Mayor's Fund, as part of our crowdfunding campaign to kit out the new space. We are so grateful to our Borough and to our many, many local supporters for seeing the value of investing in arts and culture at the heart of our community, and keeping them accessible to all.

The new building will house a second screen which will diversify our film programme, and it'll give us the space for our established community programmes to really flourish.

Which cinemas had an important impact on you in early life?

I did a couple of festival internships at The Watershed in Bristol. Up to this point I had studied film, but not seen it within the context of a cinema. This was where I really saw and understood the part that a cinema can play in the life of a city, and how uniquely accessible cinemas are as cultural venues.

How did you get from there to running the Lexi?

My first job in cinema was Assistant Manager of the Little Theatre Cinema, in Bath. I feel so nostalgic thinking about it! I was in my early 20s and full of ideas for community projects we could run and collaborations we could set up. I had loads of energy but an awful lot to learn. 

It was quite an old-fashioned place and the thing I remember most was the team of projectionists we had there. All very old-school, all men, and none of them were quite sure what to make of a young woman manager. There was a lovely, grumpy, elderly usher called Michael Ball whom I made great friends with. It was - and still is - owned by a wonderful woman called Hilary King.

Next I moved to London to work at the Picturehouse in Greenwich where I was really lucky to have a boss, Darren Jones, who basically taught me everything I know and who I still call on for advice. Everyone needs somebody like this. He knew how important community outreach was to me and encouraged me to set up loads of collaborative projects.

My first job as the boss was managing the Screen on the Green in Islington, where I made some great friends and some of my happiest cinema memories in London. I was so proud of that job, it's a really iconic cinema.

Ten years ago I was lucky enough to get this job at the Lexi. The kind of cinema we're running is unique and I'm so proud of the projects we're able to produce with so little space and money. I honestly can't wait to see what the coming years hold now that we are able to expand. 

What projects are you most proud of working on?

The Lexi Film School - this is our "community film school", where we try to move away from the traditional film studies canon and explore an alternative film history. The list of speakers we have had to speak is incredible, the tickets are affordable and our speakers write the film notes too, so some really great film writing has come out of this project. It's also helped me with my fear of public speaking, as I introduce the speakers. I drive our cinema team mad as I'm always faffing about nervously before the screenings start! 

While the Lexi is closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, how have you been reaching audiences at home?

We're running Lexi Virtual to keep in touch with all our customers. We're providing our audience with a lovingly curated selection of free to-view films from classic and new features to docs and even an artist video strand, in conjunction with curators Cole Projects. The programme is refreshed each week and we host online watch-along screenings every Monday, with a discussion afterwards. 

Zoe, our Operations Manager, is also operating our box office as a collection point for our local Food Bank. Since closure we have donated over a tonne of food and this is being delivered by Sean, our gas man! We've also added a Community Hub to our website with local news, advice and updates. Cinema is a place for connection as well as escapism, and we need both more than ever at the moment. 

What film would you choose to be the first shown in your new second screen?

It has to be something by Agnès Varda. Maybe Beaches of Agnès. A film that honours film, and the people who spend their lives in film, and is so playful and moving. It would be my tribute to everyone who makes the Lexi what it is and who will be working in the new Hub Building. As Agnès says "To love cinema, is to love".

If you'd like to support 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.

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