Under the Spotlight: The Strand Cinema Belfast
Heritage and character is a disappearing facet of many modern cinemas, so The Strand Cinema Belfast, occupying the corner site at the Belmont and Holywood Road intersection in East Belfast is a ‘must-see’ for arts enthusiasts.
The Architecture of The Strand Cinema Belfast
Originally opened in 1935, The Strand is now the oldest cinema in Northern Ireland, and a site of historic interest. The award-winning art deco facade gives the building a distinctive 1930s look, which speaks of the age of the cinema. Its outer facade, which mixes 1930s geometric sensibilities with the flavour of the local shipyards, is potholes and glass. Its long shape and funnel hints give the impression of a steamship cutting its way through the somewhat turbulent seas of the Holywood Road.
Of course it is somewhat fitting that this filmic steamboat opened just seven years after Walt Disney released his own synonymous mouse onto the seas in Steamboat Willie. The cinematic history of The Strand is rich, with the local residents in east Belfast able to wind it into some of their most treasured memories, from seeing their first movies there, to a regular ‘courting’ trip, it is a piece of cultural memory. The centre has taken on many guises throughout the years to appeal to a changing audience, from cinema, to vaudeville theatre, to adding screens and now as an arts centre.
The Strand Cinema in the 1930s
The Strand Cinema in the 1990s
The Strand Cinema today
The future of The Strand as an arts centre is positive for the venue. It isn’t just a cinema and shouldn’t really try and change to be like the multi-screened monoliths we are all familiar with. The venue is now hosting theatre shows in its period surroundings along with screenings introducing a new audience to both classic cinema and live performance. It also currently has a series of workshop spaces where drama and performance skills labs engage with young people. One of the most exciting things for the venue has to be becoming East Belfast’s primary arts centre, producing new and canonical work along with doing what it does best and showing films.
The arts centre has held on to its history by hosting heritage tours on a monthly basis with chief projectionist and film historian Alan McCurg who talks visitors through the building’s history, architecture and design. Participants also get a chance to go ‘behind the scenes’ and see the original 35mm projector in action.
Call in for a new or classic movie or pick up a programme and see what is happening at The Strand, take the tour or just soak up the history. This is a definite stop for film lovers and architectural historians alike.
Strand Cinema Belfast, 152-154 Holywood Road, Belfast, BT4 1NY 02890 655830
Photos copyright of Gerry McNally Photography.
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Dawn is a drama lecturer and Chief Executive of a Shakespeare charity in Belfast. She’s worked in the arts for longer than she cares to remember, her focus is on youth drama and opportunities for young people in the creative arts. As editor of Inanity and the Girl she spends her free time writing about vintage living on the retro inspired blog where she discusses vintage styling, baking and tips on period design. She also investigates the social history of recipe books. She consequently can be found most weekends delving into the vintage stores of Belfast in search of the perfect atomic leg and, like The White Queen has often believed in, six impossible things before breakfast.