The Glasgow Film Theatre by night Photo: Max Crawford
Glasgow's celebrated independent cinema, the GFT, is engaging in a crowdfunding exercise to help it complete a major programme of refurbishment. The work, which has been underway for several years, has led to the opening of a third screen and has included major alterations to the structure of the building, all carried out whilst the cinema remained open to the public.
CEO Jaki McDougall, who began working on the project in 2005 with research into what members of the public wanted from the GFT, says the big challenge has been keeping it in its much-loved venues but upgrading it to deal with access issues and expand what the film programming team is able to offer. She thanked Glasgow City Council and Creative Scotland for their support, and said that individuals and businesses have also been very helpful. The cinema's sponsored seat programme has been so successful that, despite the expansion of its screening facilities, it now has no seats left to sponsor.
Longstanding GFT fan Quentin Tarantino visiting the cinema Photo: Max Crawford
"It's been an expensive build because the GFT is still the busiest cinema of its size in the country," explained Jaki. "That means it takes a real battering - we can't use cheap carpets or seats. Access is a big thing for me. I wanted to get a lift but there's only one place in the building to put a lift, so we've reinstated the butterfly stairwell in the foyer so it now goes right and left. We don’t have space to have a huge bar but our customers told us they didn’t want to queue so we created another smaller bar downstairs. It's all been about using the space we've got. We haven’t been able magic up a Tardis."
Work in the cinema has included finding ways to let in more light and redecorating so that there are fewer dark corners, making it into a space that feels safe for everyone. Jaki thanked Brian McGinlay of architects McGinlay Bell for understanding what the GFT team wanted to achieve and helping to transform the B-listed building. They were both surprised to discover that several of their solutions led to the building returning to the layout it had when it originally opened as the Cosmo in 1939, with older visitors marvelling at the resemblance. But the refurbishment project isn't setting out to reclaim the past - it's about increasing what the cinema can do in future.
"Cinema 3 is a perfectly formed, gorgeous 60 seat cinema," says Jaki proudly. "With four shows a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, it means we're able to give a home, for instance, to Visible Cinema, which is an initiative around deaf and hard of hearing audiences. We've also made it more accessible to other people. For a while now we've been running films for children and families on the autistic spectrum but people who have grown up with that were starting to age out of it and ask, 'what is there for us now?' So now we can run an access film cub in there. Our original audiences are getting older, so we're introducing dementia-friendly screenings. We've also expanded our youth programme, which expands again this autumn."
The crowdfunding call, she hope, will reach people who use the cinema themselves and want future generations to have the chance to enjoy it as much as they have.
Is there a downside to all this?
"It means there’ll be even more people through the cinema," she says, "but that’s a nice problem to have!"
If you would like to help the GFT with the final stages of its restoration, you can find out more here.