If you are walking down Chatsworth Road in Hackney, only the most vigilant eye will spot, above the fancy convenience store, the new cinema that is shaking the local community.
The Castle Cinema, run by Asher Charman and Danielle (Dee) Swift, is the result of a very successful Kickstarter campaign.
Their names might ring some bells as the pair used to run the trendy pop-up cinema events Hot Tub and Pillow Cinema.
In fact, the couple were looking for a new space for Pillow Cinema when they found a vacant space on the top floor above Spar and Eat17 restaurant. Coincidence or not, the building originally opened as a cinema (The Castle Electric Theatre) in 1913, and ran until 1958. It then became a bingo club, shoe factory and snooker hall.
Talking to Eastlondonlines, Charman said: “We were introduced to this lovely space and then it all started making sense. Rather than just doing a six-month thing, maybe there was something more we could do and take this further.”
On March 1 2016, they launched a Kickstarter 30-day campaign to raise funds. After an “intense month” and a “very emotional journey” trying to raise awareness and funds, the entrepreneurial couple raised £57,000, 120 per cent of the initial target, with the help of 663 supporters.
Their tactic “was very much about local engagement”, with a lot of flyers distribution and letterbox drops. They were also lucky enough to have an existing user base from Hot Tub and Pillow Cinema, with about 60, 000 people on the mailing lists. Nonetheless, it was predominantly local people who supported the campaign.
After this huge success, Charman and Swift started another, not to say the most, challenging task: the physical built.
“We didn’t realise how big it was until we started. Obviously, we were very lucky because we got a lot of help from other people in terms of either advice or expertise.”
“At this point we were just living as frugally as possible.”
Charman, despite having a background in custom install, admits it was a “challenging” year.
The Castle was ready for some test screenings around Christmas time but it then took them another month to get their heads around and make the right relationships. The Castle had a soft launch in February and in March, exactly one year after the start of this unbelievable adventure, they can now say they are “running fairly smoothly”.
Walking in The Castle does feel like we are in a fairy tale, “with its ornate plasterwork, proscenium arch and curved ceiling.”
A single auditorium can host 80 people in very comfortable armchairs and an Art Deco inspired bar and restaurant serves local brews, hot food and cinema snacks.
Harry and Emma, regular members, told Eastlondonlines that the “cinema was really good for the local community. We’re glad to have such great armchairs and a proper sound system.
“This is our third time and we’re definitely coming back. We always look to see which films are here rather than any other cinema.”
The Castle tends to show films approximately four weeks after their release date so they can have more flexibility.
“It also turns out that a lot of local people appreciate the fact that us having it a bit later means that even if they’ve missed in another local cinema, they can still come and see it with us”, says Charman.
“There are also quite a lot of people who travel to see us because of a particular film.”
When asked about what defines The Castle, his prompt answer is “variety.”
“On one hand we’re trying to offer some more mainstream titles for people twho are locals and just want a local cinema and on the other hand we’re trying to support independent filmmakers. We’re also interested in local filmmakers and foreign language documentaries.”
This down-to-earth couple says the last thing they want to be is “pretentious.”
“We’re trying to strike that balance, we cannot say we only play arthouse titles, but neither are we just playing the big films. I think so far we managed to have a fairly good balance.”
Clearly proud of his ‘baby’, Charman tells Eastlondonlines how going from pop-up events to a long-term business is a big but “tantalising” change.
“I would like to see this cinema flourish but I think it’s going to take a lot of our time and energy to get there.
“Maybe if we can get to the point where The Castle is running smoothly and able to offer what the local community needs, we can reintroduce some of the ideas behind our previous pop-up events.”
For now, Charman and Swift are enjoying just their deserved success and could not be happier sharing it with the rest of the community.
You can see their listings and opening times here.