On April 15th last year the lights finally went out on a beacon of cultural capital in our beleaguered nation’s capital city. The Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield was ordered by Ms. Justice Mary Laffoy to turn down its lights and wind up its operations, yet another victim of the economic uncertainty that has left the once thriving northside district littered with empty shells of enterprising dreams.
For Dublin’s cinéphiles, a thriving subculture of tweed-sporting beatniks who know only too well the difference between Fassbinder’s Fear of Fear and a Fassbender inspired fear of inadequacy, the loss of the Lighthouse was profoundly felt.
But for Neil Connolly and Maretta Dillon, who had run the cinema since its early days as a two-screen curio in a disused part of Arnotts Department Store on Middle Abbey St., it was the end of an era. Having originally closed in the mid-90s after Arnotts reacquired its lease as part of an expansion framework, it would be 12 years before the grand opening of the new custom designed Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield in April 2008.
A disused underground car park had been redesigned as a cultural gem slap bang in the middle of a square best known for its horse fair, and was almost as interesting to look at as the films playing out its screens. The four different screens were inspired by sleek minimalism, cheery art deco splashes of colour and the rich vaudeville red that harkens back to the golden days of Hollywood opulence, all spread out in a surprisingly bright subterranean cinema.
In the following three years, the Lighthouse earned its place in the heart of city’s cinemagoers, despite competition from two other cinemas competing in the somewhat niche market of obscure Peruvian kitchen sink dramas and documentaries about chess.
The Irish Film Institute, located right in the centre of Templebar, has long been at the centre of alternative cinema in Ireland, and does a fine job at seeking out interesting and culturally significant films from far-flung places. With festivals and retrospectives of popular directors and filmmakers, the IFI admirably contends with the inherent difficulties of its somewhat cramped building. And it also deserves much respect for its work in educating our school-attending population in alternatives to French-kissing vampires and Michael Bay explosion porn.
And let us not forget the Screen of D’Olier St., snugly surrounded by a hectic city, but holding its own in the face of economic downturn. Looking somewhat forgotten from the outside, with a distinctly 80s-looking neon sign added only relatively recently, inside this cinema proves it’s worth its mettle compared to any multiplex.
With a key loyal audience and a tempting convenience for dossing Trinners, the Screen offers patrons one of the most elusive things a cinema can: longevity. While other theatres chop and change their schedules on a weekly basis, the Screen can always be relied upon to still be showing that one you’ve heard so much about, but haven’t quite managed to see yet.
It was with great enthusiasm and goodwill, therefore, that the announcement of the Lighthouse’s reopening was made earlier this week. From today, and under the management of Element Pictures, far from being the wasted amenity lying vacant, this pharos of film once again opens its doors.
In a week that saw the launch of the Sundance Film Festival, arguably the world’s most important celebration of independent cinema, Dubliners can rejoice that their path to alternative, classic, documentary and foreign cinema has once again been relit.