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.”

Say Owt kicks off new decade with Slam #24 contest at City Screen’s Basement

Special guest: Lisette Auton will perform at Say Owt Slam #24

SAY Owt, York’s most raucous spoken-word hub, returns on February 1 for its first competitive slam of the new decade at The Basement, City Screen.

Slots are open to take part in Say Owt Slam #24 by emailing Artistic director Henry Raby, the York performance poet, playwright and activist, says: “Poets get a maximum of three minutes each to wow the audience with their words, culminating in the winner receiving a cash prize and bragging rights.

“Whether travelling from across the country or a homegrown York talent, each one brings a totally different style of humour, politics and heart to the gig.”

Say Owt has run slams for five years, being highly commended in the 2018 York Culture Awards and prompting audience members to comment: “Expertly put together, a delightful extravaganza”; “I love it here!” and “Felt so welcome at my first slam, great atmosphere. Not what I expected”.

“Each poet brings a totally different style of humour, politics and heart to Say Owt Slam,” says artistic director Henry Raby

Say Owt Slam invariably feature a special guest too, on this occasion award-winning Darlington disabled activist, writer, poet, spoken-word artist, theatre-maker and creative practitioner Lisette Auton.

“I do stuff with words,” says Lisette, a Penguin Random House UK WriteNow mentee for her children’s novel inspired by the North East coast.

“Her poetry is full of stories, humour and lyrical warmth and all of her work seeks to make the invisible visible,” says Henry.

Tickets for this 7.30pm show cost £6 from the City Screen box office or at or £7 on the door.

Native Harrow are feeling happier now as The Basement gig beckons in York

Native Harrow’s Devin Tuel and Stephen Harms. Picture: Brenna Tuel

AMERICAN duo Native Harrow head down from their Celtic Connections show in Glasgow to play York the next day, January 18.

Singer-songwriter Devin Tuel and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms will be promoting their wistful folk-rock 2019 album, Happier Now, at The Basement, City Screen.

Signed to Loose Music, the London home to The Handsome Family, Courtney Marie Andrews and Israel Nash, Native Harrow will be performing 11 British gigs in January before returning to North Yorkshire for the Deer Shed Festival at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, from July 24 to 26.

Native Harrow is the nom de plume of Tuel, a former ballerina and classically trained singer, from Newburgh, New York, who says of her third album: “This record is about becoming your own advocate. Realising that maybe you are different in several or a myriad of ways and that that is okay. And further, it is about me becoming a grown woman.”

After nearly two decades of rigorous training in ballet, theatre and singing, Tuel needed to break out of the oppressive rules of academia. She had to find her natural voice, write from her heart, and figure out what kind of performer she truly was, rather than the one she was being moulded into from the age of three. “I spent my early twenties playing every venue in Greenwich Village, recording demos in my friend’s kitchen and making lattes,” she says.

“I felt very alive then. I was on my own living in my own little studio, staying up all night writing; the dream I had of being a bohemian New York City artist was unfolding. I wanted to be Patti Smith.

“I was also heartbroken, poor and had no idea what I was getting myself into. My twenties, as I think it goes for most, were all about getting up, getting knocked down, and learning to keep going. I never gave up and I think if I told 20-year-old me how things looked nine years later she’d be so excited”.

She and Harms recorded Happier Now at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders over three days in March 2018, working with co-producer Alex Hall on nine songs that addressed fear, love, the open road, ill-fated relationships and coping with the state of the world.

“I wanted to share that I made it out of my own thunderstorm,” says Tuel. “I had experienced the high peaks and very low valleys of my twenties.

“I saw more of the world on my own, got through challenges, revelled in true moments of triumph, but all the while the world around me was growing louder, wilder, and scarier. Music for me is a place to be soft. This album was my place to feel it all.”   

Happier Now’s songs were written in the duo’s “downtime” during three back-to-back tours across North America, spanning 108 dates, in support of Native Harrow’s second album, Sorores.

Tuel approached the sessions like a musicians’ workshop, each morning beginning with the songwriter presenting her collaborators with the day’s material.

Tuel, Harms and Hall rehearsed and documented each song live on the floor, tracking as a band through each take. No click tracks, scratch tracks, or even headphones; just three musicians in a small room, captured with Hall’s collection of vintage microphones and subtle retro production techniques.

Overdubs, including vocal harmonies, B3 organ and the rare lead guitar, were added to decorate these live performances.  The creative energy of the tightly knit sessions spilled over into Tuel’s songwriting as well: she skipped lunch on the third and final day of recording to pen the road-weary Hard To Take.

Four days after arriving in Chicago, Native Harrow were back on the road and Happier Now was complete, with its songs oscillating between feeling the sting of uncertainty on Can’t Go On Like This, through the beauty of California on Blue Canyon, to the ache for lavish stability on Way To Light.

Hear them live in York on January 18 in an 8pm show promoted by Please Please You. Tickets cost £10 at

Charles Hutchinson

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 or in person from the City Screen box office. “You’re also welcome without a dog,” says Dave.