IT WAS a cinematic experience like no other.
You would not usually associate a trip to the cinema with work, but in truth, this was more pleasure than a hard day of grafting.
Not only was I able to get a sneak view of a movie from the gallery of Brynmawr’s Market Hall Cinema, but I was lucky enough to learn about the building’s rich history as well.
As a self-confessed film buff, I venture to my nearest cinema now and again, expected to be given the full treatment, regardless of the quality of the film on show. But not for once did I think of the work that goes on behind the scenes (quite literally) to ensure our cinematic experience is such a hassle-free and pleasurable one.
But this is not your average cinema. Market Hall is not part of a multiplex-chain – it is rather the heartbeat of the local community, a community that pulled together last year to ensure its future (see panel).
The workload is 10 times harder at this cinema, because compared to many others, it is rather under-staffed. But what they lack in numbers, they make up in years of experience – nearly a century worth of it in fact.
The first tilt of the hat goes to Market Hall stalwart Ralph, who showed me the ropes.
Firstly, there was the task of hoovering the red carpets of the 350-seater room, littered with popcorn from the previous visitors. Ralph explained how they would sometimes use a leaf blower vacuum to get rid of all the mess, but to my disappointment, the conventional task of hoovering had to do for today.
After ensuring the room was fit for use, I made my way to the front room to welcome the approaching schoolchildren.
In many ways, it was like stepping back in time, not least of all because of its very reasonable prices in the shop.
Among those to receive a box-full of popcorn was local Assembly Member Alun Davies, who had happened to be on a visit to speak to Market Hall’s newest linchpin, Peter Watkins-Hughes.
Children from surrounding schools were there to watch the film ‘Frozen’, but first there was the task of turning the film on – which is not as easy as it sounds.
Sound, was also important in this tricky manoeuvre. As the children looked on in awe at the impressive wide screen, and the luxurious, yet old-fashioned seats in front of them, I was busy dimming the lights and opening the curtains. I learned that timing is key in order for it all to appear as smooth as possible. Have you always thought the curtains and the movie came on in synchronisation through one push of a button? I did.
The romance of turning on the old-type projectors has been and gone, but there is still pleasure in seeing a movie appear on a very big screen and knowing that it was all down to your 10 seconds of work – even though it is all done now with modern technology (a laptop operated the projector).
A murmur of excitement could be heard among the expectant crowd, who were now almost entirely in pitch darkness. The film was underway.
Mr Watkins-Hughes said: “I could point out to you the exact seat where I was sat when I came here to watch my first movie. It was Jaws, and I fell in love with it.
“This place has been such a big part of my life, and to think at one point that it might close was very hard to take and I couldn’t let that happen.”
Essential maintenance work took place, and it now boasts a new HD screen and digital projector. And yet, its old projector still stands proudly up in the gallery.
Market Hall, however, is not standing still, and it is not looking at the past through rose-tinted windows either. A hard-hitting film aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of drugs will get its world premiere at the iconic venue on January 16.
The 60-minute drama, The Good Drug Dealer, focuses on the impact of drugs like meow meow across Wales and the devastating impact addiction has on families and local communities.
The Market Hall Cinema experience is unlike no other, and quite addictive in itself.
Historic cinema opened in 1890
Brynmawr’s Market Hall Cinema re-opened last year after being handed over to a local community group, run by Peter Watkins-Hughes.
The historic cinema, which opened in 1890, closed after Blaenau Gwent council withdrew funding in March from the Brynmawr landmark.
But after a strong protest campaign, the council handed over the cinema to the newly formed Market Hall Brynmawr Community Group, a combination of the previous Save Our Cinema and Market Hall Cinema Trust groups.
At the reopening, which featured a special preview screening of Despicable Me 2, more than 1,000 people turned up to watch the film in the newly refurbished and modernised cinema.