This is a tale of two cinemas.
And like all good (hi)stories, it starts with a question. Not just what happened when, or even why. Not just the big questions of staple historiographical fare: who is telling the (hi)story and why are they telling it?
It isn’t even the question that has become so central to Voices Gloucester and which continues to challenge and inspire us as the programme grows and evolves: how do we tell stories about our past. Is history only ever written in books, theses and essays? Or can it be told in film, in music, in embroidery, in photographs?
Asking these questions (and challenging some of the hackneyed established responses) is Voices’ lifeblood. But this autumn our programme was, for me, all about adding one more question to the mix: where. Where do we make our history and where do we share it? How much does deciding where change the story we’re telling? Two Gloucester cinemas taking centre stage at this year’s Voices autumn programme suggested some answers.
We launched and ended Voices Gloucester at the Picturedrome on Barton Street, with Rider Shafique’s and Tarsier Collective’s three short films on Gloucester ‘firsts’: first black-owned business, first mosque and first inter-racial marriage.
Across the City we hosted an evening at a very different cinema – the Sherbourne – showing The Boys at No 18, a short documentary about the Kindertransport and 10 young boys who arrived in Gloucester fleeing Nazi Germany. Afterwards, those that had both time and curiosity, could walk a few short yards to Alexandra Road and stand outside the house which the boys called home in the 1940s and which was the backdrop to the film.
Two cinemas. One, the Picturedrome, only partially renovated with an auditorium that echoes with the ghosts of matinees past. Would Rider’s stories have resonated differently if they’d been told divorced from the places in which they’d been made? Would the launch have felt different had guests not also been swapping their stories of the Olympus Theatre as it once was? Did it make a difference to me that I could see the streets and the mosque – would I have felt differently if I’d seen these films divorced from their setting? I think so.
The other, the Sherborne, is a very different building. A mission hut converted with passion and enthusiasm, with echoes back to the 1940s, showing a film about boys who would have walked along the pavement outside. It is a more distant past, and none of the boys are still alive. But their children are, and they told their fathers’ stories. Walking the short distance to Alexandra Road, seeing the tall red brick building and looking at the windows from which the boys once looked themselves made the film hum with memory. This was more than academic testimony – it was lived history.
So yes, where is important. Confining history only to its physical setting is as restrictive as confining it to lecture halls, libraries and niche TV channels. But sharing it in the spaces in which it has been made transforms it. Thank you Voices for asking questions. And, this autumn, adding another one.