The region has long been recognised for nurturing the inspiring works of artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, craft artists and many more producing imaginative and award winning examples of their talent
The people of New South Wales took to motion pictures with fervour from the time they were first screened in 1896. For country people the cinema fulfilled two roles, a place for social interaction and entertainment.
The region has long been recognised for nurturing the inspiring works of artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, craft artists and many more producing imaginative and award winning examples of their talent. A place where history and culture collide with creativity and innovation. Combine this with our diverse landscapes and rich heritage and it is not surprising that a number of major feature films have been made in the region or by our filmmakers or tell our stories.
In 1941 Doris and Alan Brissett purchased the Community Hall on Sawtell’s First Avenue, added some wooden tiered seating and a projection room and the Sawtell Cinema was born. For three generations the Sawtell Cinema remained in the Brissett Family.
Over the years the cinema has faced plenty of disasters, and on each occasion the community has stepped in to help. In 1955, a mini-cyclone ripped through Sawtell, totally demolishing the cinema. The “show must go on” was the catch-cry of the community, and Sawtell had its very own open-air cinema as the building was being rebuilt. The projector was powered by an old Ford pick up truck and patrons would bring their own cap guns for Westerns and umbrellas for rainy nights. Twelve months later the triple brick structure that today’s Sawtellians recognise as the Sawtell Cinema was completed. In March 2009, a metre of water flooded Sawtell, causing extensive damage to the cinema and forcing a 6-week closure. Yet again the community was there for support. A group of citizens formed the Friends of the Sawtell Cinema, which stepped forward to support the cinema. It was the cost to change over to digital projection technology that eventually forced the closure of this much loved local treasure. The Brissett family put the cinema on the market in March 2012. When no buyer came forward, the cinema was closed in December 2012.
For two years Sawtell Cinema patiently waited for the community to show their support yet again. A group of local patrons stepped forward to purchase the original building. In March 2015, Council approved plans for the renovation of the Cinema, including an upgrade to a digital projection system, division of the cinema into two separate theatres and toilets on the inside of the building so you won’t have to get wet on rainy nights! There was a buzz of excitement in the Sawtell air. When the community was asked to help fund the cost of the new seating the response was extraordinary. Over 400 people raised more than $140,000…enough money to fund all new seating and all new screens for two cinemas. The Sawtell Cinema reopened on 17 December 2015….and its history rolls on! (Save Sawtell Cinema. http://www.sawtellcinema.com.au/
The Jetty Memorial Theatre was originally opened as a public hall in 1928 to serve as a memorial to soldiers from World War One and to provide a space for community and social events. The hall was gazetted as a war memorial hall on the 24th July, 1931.The original 100 wooden seats were installed in 1931 at the theatre, by John W Gerard who had secured a license to screen films at the venue. John Gerard was a prominent Coffs Harbour identity, owning the Tasma Cinema until its closure in 1965. Both theatres played the same double feature and both theatres were open at the same time. Since Gerard had only one copy each of the two shows, how could they possibly run simultaneously?
The solution - send trusty worker Lloyd Erwin between the two theatres on his pushbike during intermission. In his basket would be the film just run at the Jetty. Reaching the Tasma, he'd do a quick trade for the film just run at the Tasma and be back in time for the Jetty's second feature presentation. An additional 150 seats with cast iron bases were added to the theatre after the Tasma Cinema closure.
In 2003, the theatre was closed and underwent a major restoration by the Coffs Harbour City Council, which transformed the building into a state-of-the-art 250-seat contemporary venue capable of being adapted to a wide range of community and touring shows. The theatre was officially re-opened in 2004.In recent years it has again become the heart of screen culture in the region showcasing major film festivals and regular screenings of films otherwise not picked up by today’s commercial operators.
Laurieton’s first cinema was located in the local public hall in Bold Street, the hall having been licenced since 1911 to show movies. . The other cinema exhibitor in the area was Mrs McCormack, a touring exhibitor showing pictures in the towns and villages in the area such as Kendall and Johns River. The McCormack travelling cinema enterprise was amongst the last in existence and ceased trading in 1960.
The trade in movies in holiday periods in the 1950s was quite lucrative in Laurieton and led to the acquisition of land across the road from the old hall in which a new and larger cinema could be erected. A local builder Mr Bruce Longworth formed an equal partnership with Messrs. G and P Hatsatouris to run the cinema. The Hatsatouris family were long established exhibitors involved in the Taree Civic and Savoy theatres and the Ritz theatre at Port Macquarie. The capacity of the new Plaza Theatre was about 400 with tiered seating. The first screening taking place on 25th February 1959, when the film Peyton Place starring Lana Turner was screened.
In June 1971 the complex was sold to the Longworth family who had been involved with the Plaza Theatre since its inception. It is interesting to note that Baz Luhrmann's father was the projectionist in the early 70's, and this is the point in Baz's life where he was bitten by the motion picture industry bug. The family lived at nearby Herons Creek for a number of years.
Throughout the next 25 or so years the cinema passed through the hands of several people which resulted in several openings and closings. In 1998 the Plaza Theatre was closed permanently. The auditorium was totally stripped and the whole building was slated for demolition. However a former Queensland cinema exhibitor, David McGowan visited the region at this time with a view of establishing a cinema in the area and purchased the site and what remained.
In 1999 the Plaza Theatre was spared from demolition and was extensively rebuilt, inside and out. A new proscenium and screen was erected a few meters forward of the original. The whole cinema was fitted with new seating, the latest Kinoton projection equipment was installed as well as digital sound. The rebuild included many other speciality features giving it an art deco retro atmosphere. This personal approach by the proprietor and his programming skills have all contributed to the cinemas ongoing popularity. In 2003 he added a new 50-seat up-market movie lounge, the Deluxe Cine Lounge, which has become known for its selected films for art house audiences as well as the additional screening opportunities in peak holiday periods. (http://www.plazatheatre.com.au/about-us/)
A Rich Future for Film on the Mid North Coast
Arts Mid North Coast will be releasing a number of initiatives in 2017 to enhance the screen culture.
See whats coming in 2017:
We'll be launching a comprehensive guide to film creatives on the mid north coast.
Building on our popular SmartArt section we'll be adding a brand new section focusing on film and screen related policies across the region.
Introducing the Mid North Coast film & Screen Location finder.
In 2017 we'll be putting together a comprehensive list of locations suitable for screen and tv.