When walking into the Baker-Mamonova gallery, immediately you feel that you’ve entered an art centre.
With a cafe, art gallery and cinema, it’s a big space that has been turned into an artistic, creative place. The gallery’s large, open expanse is clutter free, with the exhibition of art on the surrounding walls.
In the back there is a ticket booth, an antique piece. Once through the double doors to the cinema, you reach the red carpet and a large screen ahead with draping red curtains. It seems to be more than just a cinema.
It creates an atmosphere you don’t get at a commercial cinema chain, blending art and film into an immersive culture you can experience.
Why open an independent cinema?
It began with Russell Baker and Olga Mamonova moving to Hastings in the early 2000’s, aware they may not make as many sales as they would in their London gallery. But they were looking for something bigger.
Galleries in London can be too small and have high expenses. Baker tells us, for good business, a gallery space can go from £50,000-£60,000 to rent.
The Baker-Mamonova gallery exhibits 20th century Russian art on Norman Road, Hastings. This led to them opening a cafe next door when the space became available.
Russell and his wife Olga have an interest in film and theatre and had the intention to create another business in the back of their minds.
The opportunity came up for more space in the back of the gallery and Baker couldn’t expand the gallery further.
The idea for Kino-Teatr was born.
What makes this cinema different to large, commercial cinemas?
The space had not been used as a cinema since 1977.
Baker developed a new design making sure to create a relaxed space. Kino-Teatr has 98 seats in total, 150 for music events, where the original cinema housed around 200 people. He had been given advice to seat as many as possible, somewhere between 400-500 people, but Russell has stayed with his decision to keep the cinema spacious and comfortable.
How has it been funded?
Baker and Mamonova refurbished the cinema, cutting costs where they could. The Curzon in Bloomsbury, London, gave them the screen, curtains and chairs. A company that has contracts with Odeon and Marriott Hotels gave them the red carpets. The flooring is almost a patchwork, with blue carpet patterns beside the red.
They were able to save money here and there (a saving of £20,000-£25,000 from secondhand parts), with huge expenses being the Sony projector costing £40,000. Baker notes the importance of a quality image and sound. The building took over rewiring and a new surround sound useful for both film screenings and music events. Baker and Mamonova have invested large amounts to get the cinema up and running, with £150,000 in grant money from the Arts Council which they matched. Bakers says the costs have been around £400,000 to open Kino-Teatr, and hopes that one day in the future they will recoup their expenditure.
The residential area is one setback for the owners, having to minimise noise levels which can be a limitation when choosing what to host. However, Baker says he wouldn’t like catering for 400/500 people which he describes as a ‘club level’ amount. He prefers to have people come and relax, to watch a film and have the opportunity to relax at the bar with a drink. But don’t expect popcorn or crisps here. As many of us know, the rustling and chomping of popcorn can ruin a movie.
Why does Hastings need an independent cinema?
As Baker says, ‘some don’t want us around but we hope to win them over slowly.’ They are keen to make this a success and from the plans in place, it seems that they are well on the way to being just that.
Why open an independent cinema in Hastings? Baker says, ‘[we’re] more of an arts centre with things we can offer to lots of people. Staying true to our creativity, offering something for our community and having them support us too.’
How do you choose what to screen?
In terms of business, Baker makes it clear that they need to bring in money to keep the cinema open. Baker and Olga wish to stay ‘as cultural as possible,’ with upcoming events they intend to do, there will be a wide range of showings: music events, film festivals and live talks with directors and actors.
The Kino-Teatr has help from an advisory panel including John Maybury, who have helped Baker and Mamonova choose what to screen. Baker notes that they have fantastic connections that have made Kino-Teatr possible.
They give the opportunity for local independent filmmakers to showcase their films. Baker points out the importance of what they are screening. It is a business, after all, and they can’t screen independent films that have been shown elsewhere for free because no one would want to pay for it.
When it’s not costing them lots of money, they hope to screen more filmmakers’ debut’s in the future.
The majority of screening Baker says, will be international, independent and classic films.
Kino-Teatr will be screening in August 2015: Slow West, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Amy, Grey Owl and Black Sea. Usual admissions: £9.00.