Okay, so this one definitely counts as ‘not quite Greenwich’ but hey – it’s a secret little gem that even people who live in Rotherhithe don’t tend to know about. And given that it’s so close to Canada Water and Rotherhithe stations, and that it’s on the 188 bus route, there’s really no excuse not to check it out if you are of the obscure-cinema persuasion…
The Sands are the cutest film studios in the world. Housed in a fabulous old warehouse full of low timber beams and quirky corners, everything is done with love. If anyone remembers Polka Children’s Theatre in the late 1980s before its ‘makeover’, it reminds me of that. It has teeny-tiny sound stages good for intimate scenes. The producers of films like The Tales of Beatrix Potter, Pride & Prejudice, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Young Victoria and Bright Star have all beaten a path to these exquisite facilities, not least for their other USP, their extraordinary costumes.
Most theatrical costumes are made up of junk when you look at them closely – bits of silver spray-painted spaghetti or ring-pulls off coke cans have been ‘jewels’ on royal gowns, rich ‘embroidery’ on Regency waistcoats painted on with an airbrush.
None of that nonsense at the Sands. Here, the costumes are as gorgeous close up as they are from a distance. You can usually catch a sneaky of whatever’s being created by their specialist embroiderer, or even see them at work if you visit yet another of their lovely facilities, the extensive Rotherhithe Picture and Research Library, which is on the ground floor, and which is free to visit on weekdays between 10.00am and 4.00pm. The collection covers all sorts of things from Victorian boots to ancient bridges. There’s an excellent selection of local history archives.
But onto the subject of today’s post. The Sands Cinema Club, run by Olivier Stockman, and clearly his baby. You join a mailing list and then every week, Olivier tells you which film he’ll be showing then next Tuesday night.
Now these films are Obscure (note the use of the upper case here.) The films Stockman chooses are usually themed – a series of world films from 1927, for example, or, starting next week, Italian movies from 1970. It’s often the only chance you’ll get to see these films. Hell – it’s usually the only time I’ve even heard of them.
If you decide to go to a screening, you drop Olivier an email (you really do have to do this – he has 900 people on the list and the place seats 30 at most ) and then just turn up.
When you get there, you often get offered a mug of tea in the cheerfully gingham kitchen before being ushered upstairs to the screening room.
Now, I’m sure you have an image of a screening room in your mind. Some chrome and plush contemporary ‘space’ just off Wardour Street where meedja types discuss the latest rushes of films that, inexplicably green-lit, will never see the darkness of an actual release short of the bargain bin in Blockbuster. You need to lose that image.
Think more of your Auntie Joan’s living room. A fabulous, low-lit, cosy venue, stuffed full with old sofas, mis-matched armchairs and a rather splendid 1950s cabinet. I have an image of a chintz table lamp in my mind, but that may just be fantasy.
Snuggle down into your own personal sofa, and listen to Olivier introduce the film. This is a man with passion in his heart and he has personally chosen these movies because he wants to see them – he’s just invited a few friends round to share them with him – and he’s keen to tell you exactly why he’s picked them.
After the film Olivier also likes to chat about what you’ve just seen, so don’t expect a quick get away – but then that’s all part of the Sands cinema experience. It’s a rounded evening, and Stockman’s enthusiastic intros and outros are part of the enjoyment.
The best part about all of this is that it’s free. Of course it would be churlish not to leave a little something in the film cannister outside afterwards as a contribution towards the hire of the next cinematic delight. People generally leave, as far as I can tell, between two or three quid and a tenner.
This is what being a Londoner is all about. Stuff like this exists all over and we just don’t know about it. The joy of living here is the discovery of gems like the Sands Cinema Club.