The Screen Room cinema (Broad Street, Nottingham, UK) opened in September 2002, it had 21 seats and was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s smallest cinema by seat capacity. It closed its doors in 2011.
When we moved in to the building there was a lot of work to be done putting in a screen, seats and the projector. We projected films on 35mm film print just like all the main cinemas (at least at that time, digital has come along since), but a 35mm projector took up a lot of space and we were forced by the layout of the building to project from behind the screen. All this meant that there was less and less room for the auditorium. A cinema we knew would be quite small was now very small.
In the months running up to the Screen Room opening in 2002, someone must have wondered out loud how small the World’s smallest cinema was, and in 2003 some application forms were sent off and quite unexpectedly a certificate from Guinness World Records arrived in the post in early 2004.
In a separate letter they explained that the rules attached to the record were that it was the smallest single screen cinema open to the public to operate full-time as a regular commercial venture. So some cinemas with a very small 3rd or 4th screen didn’t count (not single screen) nor does your living room (probably not a regular commercial venture).
There are tens of thousands of recognised records, but due to space constraints only a tiny fraction of them make it into the book – the Guinness World Records. So it was very exciting to open up the 2005 edition to find the Screen Room in there… and it was in again in 2006. To keep the book interesting they are always rotating the records and in later years “smallest cinema” was not a record that was included.
It was often mentioned in articles about the Screen Room that the previous smallest cinema was a 22 seat cinema in Australia. This was the Terrace Cinema in the small town of Tinonee, New South Wales (300km north of Sydney). In the Summer of 2011 I spoke to Darren who used to work at the Terrace and he informed me that while the cinema was still in existence, it was no longer open to the public – after 15 years of business it had closed in 2008. It had projected films on 35mm and used to show both old newsreels and new film releases.
In late 2006 the Palace cinema (Palastkino) opened in Radebeul, South East Germany near Dresden, claiming to be the World’s Smallest. It has a 9-seat cinema room off from a larger bar/restaurant. It doesn’t have a programme of films, but will get a film in if you hire out the cinema. It is now recognised as the world’s smallest by Guinness . The Palastkino is still open for business in 2011 and celebrates its 5th birthday later this year.
In late 2007/early 2008 there was much confusion and misinformation about the “smallest cinema” when La Charrette, a cinema in Wales with 23 seats, closed down. The cinema was converted from an old railway carriage and this story gained large media attention when Mark Kermode presented an edition of the BBC’s The Culture Show from there for their last ever screening in Feb 2008.
La Charrette was the smallest cinema in Wales… but that often got reported as the smallest in the country… and that often got misreported as the smallest in Britain (eg. BBC and the Independent) but the Screen Room was always smaller with 21 seats.
After its final screening, La Charrette was dismantled and moved to the Gower Heritage Centre where it can still be visited today.
In the Summer of 2008, it was possible to see a small yellow cinema with just 6 seats, in different locations around Regent’s Park, London. It was part of a contempory art project called Portavilion and screened films from Swedish artist Annika Eriksson. In 2011 Portavilion is back, but this time with a floating cinema, that will tour the waterways of East London in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.
In August 2008, The Times reported that the “Britain’s smallest cinema” was the Blue Walnut in Torquay. This is a cafebar that has an ajoining 23 seat cinema room. They have a film club that meets twice per month and have recently played films such as Ghandi, Before Sunrise, La Ronde, Shane, A Matter of Life and Death, Station Agent and The Fountain – they play films on dvd/blu-ray so don’t play any new releases. Their website is here.
In August 2009, The Mirror reported that the “world’s tiniest cinema” was opening in Coventry Market. Converted from an unused indoor market stall it had just 4 seats and played old films about the market on a 2 hour loop for anyone to come and watch. The cinema is still in Coventry Market and still opens occasionally – 2 years after its first screening.
A month later, in September 2009, a cinema was created on the back of a rickshaw to help publicise the Virgin Media short film awards. The Flick-shaw had just 2 seats and played the short films up for the award.
In August 2010, the BBC website had an article about the world’s smallest solar cinema. The Sol Cinema is converted from an old caravan and is a completely mobile cinema with just 8 seats. The projection is solar powered and they tour the country (and the world) going to festivals and showing films mainly on environmental themes.
All these projects are fantastic, it is obviously difficult to know which to count as the smallest cinema – take your pick. A few others are the Flix Movie Cafe in Hartlepool, the 22-seat Vintage mobile cinema, a 26-seater at Armley Mills, Leeds and The Exhibit in Balham, London – also with 26 seats.
It is far easier to judge the smallest cinema if you only include ones that play new theatrical releases before they come out on dvd. It is not possible to get a new release (either on 35mm or digital hard-drive) unless you have contracts and bonds with the film distribution companies and pay a percentage of your box-office takings to those companies. This will virtually force the cinema to be both open to the public and open full-time in order to make back the cost of hiring the film.
By this criteria, the Screen Room was the smallest cinema from 2002 – 2011 with 21 seats, but since we closed, Screen 6 of the Empire, Leicester Square, London with 23 seats is the smallest auditorium (for some reason their website says it has 26 seats, but it does only have 23). Screen 1 at the Empire regularly hosts UK and world red-carpet premieres and is slightly larger with 1330 seats!
And the smallest single-screen cinema is the Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch, East London with 45 seats. It is located beneath the Aubin and Wills clothes store and is run in conjuction with the £1000-per-year Shoreditch House private members club, but the cinema is open to the public and anyone can walk off the street and buy a ticket - as long as there are any left.
I hope that has satisfied the mind of even the most inquisitive small cinema enthausiast…although perhaps boring everyone else in the process. The list is obviously quite UK-centric, so do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of any abroad.
Other Small UK cinemas-
50 seats The Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings, East Sussex, UK
52 seats Shortwave, Bermondsey, London, UK
68 seats David Lean cinema at Clocktower, Croydon, UK (this has closed and/or moved ?)
69 seats Robert Burns Centre film theatre, Dumfries, Scotland, UK
70 seats The Luxe Cinema, Wisbech, Cambrideshire, UK
80 seats The Lexi Cinema, Kensal Rise, London, UK
80 seats The Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford, UK
80 seats Screen Machine, Scotland, UK – mobile cinema in a lorry that tours cinema-deprived areas of the Scottish Highlands
81 seats Old Market Hall, Shrewsbury, UK
91 seats The Kino, Hawkhurst, Kent, UK
98 seats The Electric Cinema, Notting Hill, London, UK
99 seats The Ritz, Belper, Derbyshire, UK