Showroom Sheffield's Predecessor
In the 1970s Sheffields main cinema was a Cineplex on Charter Square. It showed mainstream Hollywood and foreign language films and played an important role in the city's cultural scene, hosting Sheffield Film Week which gave local filmmakers an oppurtunity to screen their works.
It was small however and by 1983 it was struggling to stay afloat and facing closure. The city's film scene looked in peril. Fortunately the local council were keen supporters of the arts.
Sheffield's Radical 80s Government
The mid-late 70s had brought hard times for the city's steel and engineering industries and by the 80s people had had enough. Formerly safe council members were ousted in favour of members of the 'New Left', a young group of socialists many of whom were locals.
Their actions included declaring the city a nuclear-free zone, contributing £100,000 to the miner's support fund, holding an annual Marx memorial lecture and establishing a department (DEED) devoted to non-traditional job creation, particularly within the creative industries.
Showroom Sheffield's Predecessor Changes Its Face
DEED took over the old Cineplex and turned it into The Anvil Civic Cinema. Dave Godin, the record store owner famous for coining the term 'Northern Soul', was given the reigns at this new cinema. He filled its programme with an eclectic array of classic Hollywood, local and world films, running a series on Latin American and Anti-War cinema in its first year.
Anvil was a success but, like the Cineplex before it, struggled to remain viable due to its small size. By 1988 its ticket prices were growing less accessible and, despite Godin's complaints, international films were being phased out in favour of mainstream Hollywood fare.
Showroom Sheffield Is Born
Consultants recommended moving the cinema to a building better equipped to satisfy its needs, and then reshaping it as a cultural centre in the vein of Bristol's Watershed.
The building they identified was Kenning's House, a disused car dealership that had once been seen as a 'wonder garage' to show the garages of the world the way forward. Since opening in 1937 it had spent 33 years as a car showroom before being made redundant in 1970 by other dealerships further out of town.
Kenning's House was acquired by the council to be turned into a cinema to replace Anvil. I was then set up as an independent trust with charity status. 'The Showroom Project' was launched by Sir Richard Attenborough in 1989. The building was then restored and in 1994 hosted the first annual Sheffield International Documentary Festival.
Showroom Sheffield Blossoms
A year later it opened its first two permanent screens, putting on screenings of Woody Allen's Aphrodite and Hal Hartley's Amateur. Since then it has taken on Anvil's legacy of playing a broad range of independent, foreign-language and Hollywood films.
It opened two more screens in 1998; a second annual festival was added to its roster in 2005, ShAFF, an adventure, travel and extreme sport festival; and a third in 2008, horror festival Celluloid Screams.
On top of showing films the Showroom has also appeared in them, notably in Chris Morris' cult classic Four Lions, and in an Arctic Monkeys music video. And, as a BFI Youth Academy, it is playing a role in developing the next generation of English filmmakers.
Perhaps its most notable success is the growth of its documentary festival, now Doc/Fest. Since the inaugural 1994 event this has grown into a city-wide extravaganza that is the third largest documentary festival in the world and, as of 2014, an official Oscar-qualifier festival.
All this to say, Showroom Sheffield is not just an amazing independent cinema that shows great films from around the world, it is also somewhere you might witness the first public showing of a future Oscar winner, long before it reaches wide release.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Sheffield Treasure Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of England.