One source of entertainment that I just adored while I was in New Zealand was the Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka. Now I learn that it is to close, or at least move. Apparently the lease is almost up and the section is planned for new development. There are plans for a new version of the cinema to be built outside of the town, near to Albert Town and it will form the centrepiece of a complex with accomodation, camper vans, shops and other things. I understand that there will be three screens. Whatever is done, it will not be the same, and throwing three million dollars at the new development will not allow it to capture the magic of the Paradiso that I know. So, it seems, if you want to see the Paradiso as I did, you will need to get your skates on.
Behind the cut is the piece I wrote about Paradiso when I was there in January 2005. I have included pictures too, but didn't want to spoil the surprise by showing them before the article.
As I was staying in Wanaka for a couple of weeks I felt that I had to experience what so many people had described to me as the best little cinema in the world. (Just a thought, but, how many little cinemas do you have to visit to make that judgement?) It is certainly one of the most famous little cinemas around. Earlier in the day I had wandered in to the café and bought a ticket for that evening’s screening of ‘Team America’, by the makers of South Park, sampled some of the wonderful coffee and got myself around a fabulous enormous chocolate chip cookie. It pays to book ahead as most showings sell out well in advance during the school holidays and anyway, if you need an excuse for some of the best coffee in town it’s as good as any.
Eagerly, at a little before eight-thirty, I wandered the short distance from Mountain View to the cinema. I joined the short queue in the café waiting for the previous film to finish. Once it had, the audience trooped out happily recycling bottles and plastic tubs as they went. As soon as the cinema was empty the chef and a waitress got into position by the door to take tickets, and the queue moved forward.
Forget everything you have ever known about multiplexes and modern cinemas, forget your numbered seats and your plush mock-velvet interiors, forget Pearl and Dean and forthcoming attractions, and forget the mechanised swishing of curtains and all the other trappings of what passes for cinema entertainment in the multi-national homogenised world in which we live. This was cinema in the raw. The screen appeared to consist of little more than a few white sheets nailed to the wall, though was probably more complicated and sophisticated than that. The seats, some of which were held together with duct tape, were a collection of old settees and arm-chairs, a row of aeroplane seats were sited near the back, there was a row of old fashioned cinema seats that had seen better days but the main attraction, seating-wise, was an old yellow Morris Minor stripped out and positioned as if it had just plunged through the wall ready to seat three more punters. It has to be remembered that, if you sit in the car you are generally going to attract as much attention as the film.
It was refreshing to see that wine glasses and beer bottles were perfectly acceptable within the auditorium; homemade ice cream was served in small tubs with handwritten labels, each with an accompanying real metal teaspoon. I am reliably informed that the white chocolate and raspberry ice cream is something really special.
I would guess that there was enough seating for between sixty and seventy people and, once everyone had finished ordering up hot food and drinks for the intermission; yes, the film was stopped half way through for refreshments, we got under way. There was no surround-sound or any other distracting modern trends as seen elsewhere, this was just pure cinema in fun surroundings and was great. Oh, and the film was very enjoyable too.
The general choice of films shown reflects standard tastes really, current blockbusters sit very neatly beside art-house productions and, usually, four different films are shown every day. If you find yourself in Wanaka, even for an afternoon, visit the cinema, or at least the café; if there is no film on at the time they may allow you a quick peek inside, you will not forget or regret the experience.
Before the end of my time in Wanaka I went back to the Paradiso. This time I saw the Chinese film, Hero, which was excellent and recommended to me by Angela, the hired help at Mountain View, and the Paradiso experience was just as good the second time around. I sat in one of the airline seats that time.
Please click on the pictures to enlarge them.
I went back to Wanaka in April 2005 and spent many happy hours at the cinema and in the cafe.