City Screen marks 20th anniversary with Buena Vista Social Club screening

The Buena Vista Social Club musicians playing in Amsterdam in April 1998

JANUARY 7 2020 will mark 20 years since City Screen, York, opened on its riverside site in Coney Street.

General manager Tony Clarke and associate general manager Cath Sharp have been there since the opening, and to mark the anniversary they have selected Buena Vista Social Club for a special show at 8.30pm that night.

Tony says: “Wim Wenders’ film about ageing Cuban musicians has probably best stood the test of time, and so we’d like to show it again on our 20th anniversary and offer the screening free to Picturehouse members.” Please note, tickets are available to members only in person at the City Screen box office.

The film poster for Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club

The City Screen cinema is partly new-build and partly a conversion of the old office and printworks of The Yorkshire Herald, whose name is still emblazoned across the top of the building. 

Since May 1987, York Film Theatre (YFT) had operated City Screen at Tempest Anderson Hall, Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens. In 1997, however, YFT entered into a ground-breaking public/private partnership with a commercial arts cinema group, coincidentally called City Screen Limited, to create a new art-house cinema in the centre of York. 

In 1998, the new partnership won an Arts Council Lottery Award of £2.37 million, a sum matched by City Screen Ltd, to buy and renovate the Yorkshire Herald newspaper building that had stood derelict since 1989. 

Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara  Portuondo in Buena Vista Social Club

The new City Screen, York, opened for business in January 2000 with a first programme of Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club, Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey and Simon Beaufoy and Billie Eltringham’s The Darkest Light.

In Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Cuba’s  rich and colourful past comes vividly to life as the Paris, Texas and Wings Of Desire director documents American musician Ry Cooder’s return to Havana.

There Cooder had recorded the Grammy Award-winning Buena Vista Social Club album, still the biggest-selling world music recording of all time, with veteran musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara  Portuondo and Compay Segundo.

This dream team of players from Cuban music’s golden age introduced the rhythms of Son, Bolero and Danzón to a new audience, making them instant international stars.

Compay Segundo performing with the Buena Vista Social Club musicians

Never a regular band, however, The Buena Vista Social Club had gone their separate ways after that 1997 album, but Cooder’s return brought them together again in 1998 to look back to the halcyon days of Cuba’s music scene, when the rich and famous travelled from all over the world to listen to them.

In the film’s climax, their music comes alive anew as they rehearse for their first – and only – performance in the United States at a sold-out Carnegie Hall in New York

Looking forward to introducing the January 7 screening, Tony says: “”Our wine supplier, Bibendum, has generously provided us with some Prosecco to enable us to give members a free drink on the night to toast City Screen on this anniversary, and we’ll even have our head chef make some birthday cake as well. 

“What’s more, the celebrations will continue throughout 2020 with more special events once the ‘Oscar season’ is over, so keep an eye out for those too.”

Charles Hutchinson