Cinema that shows the latest films keeps us in touch with our culture and lets us feel ‘up to date’ with what’s going on. When you take the decision to move to a Highland location, it is reassuring to know that you are not completely cutting yourself off from mainstream culture. The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy run by The Birks Cinema Trust, provides a wonderful facility that does a lot more than just show the latest films to the local community and visitors.
A brief history of a cinema at the heart of its community.
The first record of a public film screening in Aberfeldy is of a British Army recruitment film played at the Town Hall in 1914 by the Black Watch Regiment. Anyone bringing along a potential recruit was paid five shillings, with an extra five shillings for the tallest man and the “most developed” man.
Sadly by the 1980s – as with many cinemas around the country – The Birks Cinema had become uneconomic to run, as even the addition of twice-weekly bingo sessions failed to keep the business afloat.
In September 1981, the local ‘Comment’ magazine featured an article – ‘Bye Bye to The Birks’ – reporting “the passing of the movie era” in Aberfeldy, as the cinema was earmarked for closure. The article bemoaned the loss of “a cheap evening out the house”, particularly as there was “nothing around to fill this recreation gap”. When The Birks Cinema closed its doors in 1982, there was no clear plan for this architectural gem and local landmark’s future.
Cue a small group of Aberfeldy film-obsessed and cinema-deprived local residents – members of the Heartland Film Society – who dared to dream when they saw the For Sale board appear on the, by then, derelict cinema in 2005. The Friends of The Birks Cinema charity was born, with the aim of acquiring the building and reviving it as a community-run social enterprise.
Fortunately, a Scotland-based cinema expert, Ron Inglis, supported their ambitions. If the cinema moved into the modern digital age, he advised, it could provide a wide film programme including the latest movies, despite its remote location. And importantly, he also confirmed all the additional benefits a cinema would bring to a rural community – cross-generational entertainment and social inclusion, a sense of pride of place, plus economic improvement. The less good news was the amount of funds that would be required to make this a reality… a total of £1.8mn.
A concerted campaign of local fundraising events, alongside lobbying for grants from national sources, ran throughout 2011. In February 2013, The Birks was only the second cinema in the UK to install the sophisticated and recently launched digital projector, which is wall- mounted (in a silenced box) at the rear of the auditorium.
On Saturday 20th April 2013, The Birks Cinema’s doors opened again to the public – one of the first independent cinemas in the UK to be totally renovated and re-opened. And, in November 2013, patron Alan Cumming returned to Aberfeldy to attend a gala celebration, along with his mother and many of the people who had been instrumental in bringing back big screen entertainment to a rural community.
Is this the future of community cinema?
The Birks Cinema is now firmly established at the heart of the Aberfeldy community. From board games and a warm hub, to live music and even watching Scotland play in the Six Nations on the big screen, the Birks is well worth a visit. So, the next time you are in Highland Perthshire, why not drop in and participate in a truly wonderful community-led venture? Treat yourself to a great cup of tea and a scone and then go on in to watch on the latest blockbuster in a remarkable venue.
The Birks, Aberfeldy is a model for any community wanting to revive local cinema and so much more. If you want to breathe life back into your community, the Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy is a must-see.