The director’s view on 20 years of City Screen as Tony Clarke looks at past, present and future of cinema-going in York

Buena Vista Social Club: tonight’s choice of film to mark 20 years of City Screen, York

JANUARY 7 2020 marks 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 tonight.

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.

Ahead of tonight’s 20th anniversary screening, Tony Clarke looks back on two decades of City Screen. Charles Hutchinson asks the questions.

What are your first memories of City Screen opening in Coney Street, Tony?

“As with many regeneration projects like this, the construction works ran behind schedule – in a major way. We opened the doors without power to some parts of the building; we had to run extension cables from the parts of the building that did have power.

“When I started working at City Screen – which was mid-December 1999, so nearly a month before opening – the riverside bar was just a concrete floor. It was impressive to see how quickly this area was fitted out in a week or so.”

What were City Screen’s objectives at that time?

“They are not that dissimilar to our objectives today. They have always been to give customers the best cinematic experience by showing a broad range of films in auditoriums that are comfortable and where the presentation matters.

“Our range of films encompasses quality mainstream, independent, arthouse and foreign language. We have always considered cinema-going to be a social event, so we offer great drinks and food in our cafe bar for pre-show or post-show get-togethers.”

What have been City Screen’s principal achievements over the past 20 years?

“We’ve built loyal and trusting audiences through our membership scheme and established City Screen as a cultural hub right in the city centre.”

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

How has City Screen changed over those 20 years and do you think its role has changed within the York cinema scene?

“As a cinema, City Screen has changed with the shift in the industry to digital filmmaking and exhibition. Celluloid film has been succeeded by digital: we no longer use 35mm film and mechanical projectors; we now play ‘content’ in high definition from computer files, servers and digital projectors.

“This change in technology has enabled us to diversify our programme and screen productions live from the New York Metropolitan Opera or the National Theatre via satellite.”

What else?

“As a business, our cafe bar has grown in popularity with our food menu, dishes made fresh and to order, plus the range of drinks – not only barista-made coffee but the wines and beers.

“We’d always set out – and this is the ethos of Picturehouse as a company – to be a neighbourhood cinema with our roots firmly in the communities of York. I think we’ve achieved that.

“Our programming has expanded, not only with what is called alternative content, opera and theatre shows broadcast into the auditoriums, but also with new community-orientated programme strands such as Toddler Time, Big Scream, Autism-Friendly and Dementia-Friendly screenings.”

Where does arthouse cinema fit into film programming in 2020? Would you like there to be more arthouse screenings at City Screen?

“A fundamental aspect of Picturehouse’s programming and vision is to show arthouse films and this will continue to be the case at City Screen.

“There are particular programming strands where arthouse films are featured, such as the Discover strand, and we’ll be continuing to build audiences for this kind of cinema, which doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves.

How have cinema-going tastes and habits changed over the past 20 years?

“There are always technological changes that affect cinema-going tastes and habits – digital being the one I mentioned and the effect that has had on our programme with alternative content and the like.

“There are other technological innovations for experiencing cinema such as 3D, 4DX: innovations less appropriate to the City Screen experience, it’s fair to say. “There’s certainly an appetite for the big ‘tentpole’ event titles such as Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars and the latest James Bond, but always a very busy period around the awards season in the first few months of the year too. Last year, for example, saw the release of The Favourite and Green Book and this time Little Women and 1917.”

Before Sunset: City Screen director Tony Clarke’s favourite film of the past 20 years

City Screen is about so much more than showing films: question-and-answer sessions; satellite screenings of ballet, theatre, opera and exhibition openings in London; food and drink; exhibitions in the bar and the first-floor corridor; The Basement programme of music and comedy. Discuss…

“As you say, City Screen is so much more than showing films. We have a lot of cultural activity going on in the venue, whether this involves directors discussing their films and work in Q&A sessions, either in person or via a live satellite feed; live broadcasts of theatre and opera shows taking place in London or New York; an ongoing programme of art exhibitions in the bar or on the second floor that features the work of local artists and community groups,; plus a curated programme of performing arts events in the 100-capacity Basement with lots of comedy, music and cabaret.”

What has been your favourite film from the past 20 years?

“I know it’s part of a trilogy, but I’m going to choose Before Sunset [Richard Linklater’s 2004 sequel to his 1995 romantic drama Before Sunrise, again starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke].”

What makes for a good cinema-visit experience in 2020?

“A venue with a relaxing atmosphere, where friendly and passionate staff work, where the auditoriums are comfortable, and where the quality of the picture and sound are second to none.”

How do you see cinema and cinemas progressing over the next decade?

“The next decade will be interesting in how film, TV and on-demand streaming services in the home will affect cinema exhibition and cinema-going.

“Cinemas have always adapted and developed, so that they retain something different and unique about their experience for customers. It’s an event and a night out to go to the cinema to see a film rather than watch at home – I suppose cinema and cinemas will progress along these lines.”

York enters 2020 with four cinemas – City Screen, Everyman, Vue and Cineworld – all in very good, ultramodern order. Can a city of York’s size embrace that number of cinemas, and what does it say about the popularity of film-going that we now have that many?

“Four cinemas in York does mean there will be increased competition between them all. York has a regional draw so will attract cinema customers from further afield, but most likely to those venues outside of town with car parking, so Cineworld and Vue Cinema are certainly popular in York.”

What distinguishes City Screen from the others?

“The programme is more diverse and curated to audiences, it has a wonderful city-centre location on the river with great views, and the staff and the quality of service are great too, which all offers a unique experience for customers.”

Will there be further celebrations of City Screen’s 20th anniversary?

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

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

Dogs invited to friendly encounter with Cats at City Screen on December 29

Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy in Cats

CATS and dogs will be in harmony on December 29 when City Screen, York, plays host to a dog-friendly screening of the new musical fantasy film.

“We’re offering dog-lovers the chance to bring their canine friends to the cinema that morning at 11am,” says marketing manager Dave Taylor.

“A dog is not just for Christmas, but it’s Christmas for dogs too, so this is a special treat for dog-owners and their pets. 

“They’ll be issued with a fleece blanket to cover the seat used by the dog or to use as a rug if the dog sits on the floor. During the screening, we’ll provide bowls of water around the screen, and we’ll also leave lighting levels a little higher than usual during the screening and lower the volume of the soundtrack.

“Please be aware that we reduce capacity for such screenings, so there may be fewer tickets than usual. We also have a limit of one dog per adult so that people can keep control of their dog.”


City Screen has arranged dog-friendly screenings in the past. “They’ve been well received by dog-owners and have gone off without incident, though cinema staff undertake a thorough ‘deep-clean’ of the auditorium before the next film is shown,” says Dave.


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, one of the most successful stage musicals of all time, has been adapted for the big screen by director Tom Hooper, who directed The Damned United in 2009, The King’s Speech in 2010, Les Misérables in 2012 and The Danish Girl in 2015.

Now he “reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology and dance ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, street dance and tap”.

Released this Friday, its cast of star actors and dancers includes Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy; Idris Elba stars as Macavity, the mystery cat; Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots; Ray Winston, Growltiger; James Corden, Bustopher Jones; Jennifer Hudson, Grizabella; cat lover Taylor Swift, Bombalurina; Jason Derulo,  Rum Tum Tigger, and Sir Ian McKellen, Gus the Theatre Cat.


Oscar winner Hooper wrote the script with Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, based on T.S. Elliot’s whimsical Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.

Tickets for Cats (U) on December 29 are on sale on 0871 902 5747, at picturehouses.com or in person from the City Screen box office. “You’re also welcome without a dog,” says Dave.

Dame Judi to star in City Screen’s Christmas season…and what else is coming?

Dame Judi Dench in Branagh Theatre’s A Winter’s Tale: part of the Christmas season at City Screen, York, showing on December 4 at 7.30pm

CHRISTMAS comes early to City Screen, York, with The CBeebies Christmas Show on November 30 and December 1, straight from the theatre stage for a family-friendly feast of fun.

This year’s pantomime is the CBeebies adaptation of the Hansel And Gretel fairytale, screened at 11am on both days.

Dave Taylor, City Screen’s marketing manager, says: “We’re starting in November, I can sense you thinking, but there are so many Christmas shows to fit in. Something for everyone: the traditional films like Miracle On 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life and the German classic The Singing Ringing Tree.

“We even have a sing-along Dementia-Friendly Screening of the musical White Christmas on December 16. 

“There are the modern favourites like Die Hard, Elf and a Home Alone double bill and, finally, there are Screen Arts recordings of Branagh Theatre: A Winter’s Tale, starring Dame Judi Dench, and Royal Opera House ballets Coppélia and The Nutcracker.”

City Screen’s chef will enter into the Christmas spirit with festive food from the end of November, offering a dozen dishes, some traditional, some vegetarian, one vegan, and one meal for which City Screen will donate £1 from every sale to Picturehouse Cinemas’ chosen charity, Refuge.

“This charity supports women and children against domestic violence, which sadly peaks with the stresses at this time of year,” says Taylor.

Tickets are available for all the Christmas shows at the City Screen box office in Coney Street, on 0871 902 5747 or at picturehouses.com/york. Full details of screening dates and times can be found at picturehouses.com/york.

Who won the big prize at York’s film festival?

FESTIVAL TRIUMPH: Sasha Rainbow’s Kofi & Lartey wins the Best Of Fest prize

SASHA Rainbow has won the Best Of Fest Award at the 2019 Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York.

More than 400 films competed in the Official Selection for the grand festival prize at the five-day event, which climaxed with Sunday’s awards ceremony at the Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens.

Rainbow’s documentary Kofi & Lartey tells the true story of a man who escaped Agbogbloshie, the electronic waste dump site near the centre of Accra, Ghana’s capital, dubbed one of the most toxic places on Earth. The 20-minute film follows him as he empowers two young boys to do the same. 

New Zealander Rainbow’s film, along with all the category winners, becomes available for consideration for the 2020 BAFTA awards.

Kofi And Lartey was among the films selected by ASFF director Cherie Federico for the Opening Night Ceremony showcase that launched the festival last Wednesday night.

Iain Cunningham was awarded Best Feature for Irene’s Ghost, his BIFA-nominated debut feature documentary account of his search for information about the mother he never knew, as Narrative and Documentary Features returned to the festival for a second year.

Delving into hard-hitting topics, the Drama strand provides the largest part of ASFF’s programme.  Best Drama was awarded to Thomas Vernay for Miss Chazelles, the story of two young rivals.

 Best Thriller went to Madamedirected by Garth Jennings, best known for 2016’s Sing and 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.  Norteños, directed by Grandmas, took home the award for Best Comedy; Leszek Mozga won Best Animation for Roadkill; Charby Ibrahim, Best Documentary for the animated Bright Lights – The Perils Of The Pokies, a reflection on the devastating consequences of gambling. 

Tapping into the brand ethos, LEONE’s L’Incredibile, in partnership with Nike, was awarded Best Advertising;  Best Fashion went to Lola’s Manifesto, directed by Gsus Lopez and Cristian Velasco.

Usurping the idea of convention, Best Artists’ Film was presented to Rhea Storr for A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message;  Best Experimental was awarded to Samona Olanipekun for Kindred, a spirited interpretation of life in the 21st Century.

The Golden Age, directed by Eric Minh Cuong Castaing, won Best Dance, while Best Music Video went to Emmanuel Adjei for Shahmaran – Sevdaliza. 

Introducing new digital playgrounds, ASFF welcomed Virtual Reality and Immersive films into the competition for a second year. Best VR & Immersive was awarded to Virtual Viking – The Ambush, directed by Erik Gustavson, who used 106 cameras to capture Norway’s west coast, marking one of the first techniques in scripted VR drama. 

New for 2019, the Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award recognises directors with exceptional vision and a unique cinematic voice, with the prize going to Ellie Rogers for They Found Her In A Field. 

The Polaris Award celebrates the achievements of filmmakers in the North of England, with sponsorship from Film Hub North and BFI Network, and this year’s award was received by Charlene Jones for Henceforth, an honest and raw project highlighting the grief of three siblings after the loss of their parents. 

Across the five-day run, festival-goers were invited to vote for their favourite film from the Official Selection for the People’s Choice Award, won by Garry Crystal for Down, from the Drama category. This claustrophobic short about two strangers trapped in a lift stars Amanda Donohoe, James Eeles and Paul Barber. 

Chosen by students at the Youth Engagement programme, the Youth Award was given to Lasagne, directed by Hannah Hill.

This year’s festival drew entries from 53 countries and welcomed thousands of visitors, including industry professionals, students, tourists and film enthusiasts, some travelling from as far afield as Canada, Norway, Germany. Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

Entries for the tenth anniversary festival open on December 1, with the 2020 festival dates confirmed for November 4 to 8.