€9 million arthouse cinema finally set to open this year

Andrew Lowe, Director, Element Pictures, in the under-construction Picture Palace Cinema. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Eight years after the sod was turned, numerous missed deadlines for completion and controversy over misspent public funds, the arthouse cinema is now tipped to be open to the public by the end of this year according to the new operators.

Andrew Lowe, director of Element Pictures, opened the building site up to the Galway Chamber of Commerce and Galway City Councillors on Wednesday, presenting an overview of how it will look and what will be scheduled in its programme when it finally opens its doors.

In a briefing to the Galway City Tribune, Mr Lowe said he could not comment on any previous agreements reached over the three-screen building, which has so far cost the taxpayer in the region of €9 million.

Filmmaker Leila Dolan, who spearheaded the project from the beginning, approached Element Pictures to run the arthouse cinema in a similar vein to its Light House Cinema in Dublin in 2013.

Following concerns over how the project was being managed, the public funders including Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board and the Department of the Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs asked Element Pictures last year to take over management and oversee its completion.

Mr Lowe said under the new contract, the company increased their investment to nearly €900,000 in a bid to complete the fit-out, with their final funding likely to run to nearly €1m.

They will have a 30-year lease to run the facility, which will have a bar and cafe. They will have to repay Solas’ debt of €650,000 to the Western Development Commission over the next 25 years and will start to pay commercial rent to Galway City Council which still owns the site from 2026.

“We’re here to get the cinema open and completed and to run the thing. Galway will have a state-of-the art arthouse cinema with a significant level of outside funding.”

In response to criticism that the facility would be a white elephant in a city with two cinemas already, Mr Lowe said he was confident it would be a success.

“Galway has a very developed film culture. It’s very vibrant culturally. Given the population of the city and the hinterland and the significant level of third level students, we’re satisfied there is a sufficient demographic to support it,” he insisted.

He pointed out that not one of the top 20 films of 2016 in mainstream cinemas had appeared in the top 20 films of the Lighthouse. Their top films were Room, Sing Street and A Date For Mad Mary.

“We draw a very different audience. We’ve built the Lighthouse Cinema audience and doubled it in five years. We have a very active schools programme, we have showings of recorded theatre like Shakespeare.

“Our event cinema shows opera, ballet, we do a lot of curated seasons around actors and directors and retrospectives of film you’d want your kids to see on the big screen. We recently had a Wes Anderson party where everyone dressed up as characters from the movie, the Grand Budapest Hotel.”

While they will not be showing the Disney blockbusters, there will be a parent and baby morning and classic screenings geared for kids.

Pushed about an exact opening date, Mr Lowe said it would be “definitely finished this year”.

“We expect it to be open by Christmas. We need to get it open by Christmas. It’s the busiest time of the year.”