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Bringing the movies back to Sawtell - locals save their cinema

At a time when movies can be downloaded or streamed to a home cinema screen, television, laptop, tablet, smartphone and a myriad of other devices, the Sawtell community on the NSW mid North coast has given the traditional venue for seeing a movie overwhelming approval by raising more than $75,000 to save its cinema.

Not content with reaching its initial target in just four weeks, the campaign is aiming to raise a further $50,000 that will enable the restoration and renovation to include the installation of digital projection equipment in the two cinemas.

The crowdfunding campaign mounted through Chuffed gives potential donors a range of options from a t-shirt and choc top branded with ‘I Saved Sawtell Cinema’, having their name engraved on a seat in the ‘Big’ or ‘Boutique’ cinema through to dinner and a movie with the campaign’s patron, iconic Australian film reviewer and presenter, David Stratton. David told Coffs Coast Focus that regional cinema was incredibly important.

‘Films were made to be seen on a cinema screen, with an audience, not on a television screen or, heaven forbid, on a smart phone. Where I live in the Blue Mountains we have a small, privately owned cinema that shows the films the major cinemas ignore, and they have a loyal and passionate audience. I’m sure the Sawtell Cinema will fill the same role,’ he said.

Chair of Sawtell Cinema Pty Limited, Jill Nash, said she knew the community loved its cinema, but the support surpassed all of their expectations.

‘This just goes to show what the Coffs Coast is capable of,’ Jill said.

But the support hasn’t come solely from the locals. Donations have come from many parts of Australia and overseas with a real fondness for the cinema being at the heart of the success of the crowdfunding campaign.

Projects Officer with Arts Mid North Coast, Stephanie Ney, initiated the Save Sawtell Cinema campaign. In March 2014 Stephanie registered for the School for Social Enterpreneurs with the express purpose of returning the Sawtell Cinema to the community. She successfully enrolled interested locals in her dream and a plan began to take shape.

‘When I started talking to people about the idea of saving the cinema I was overwhelmed by offers to help. It seemed that the whole community was desperate for this to happen,’ she said.

Stephanie said there had been quite a revival around film and cinema in nearby Coffs Harbour and Bowraville since the Sawtell Cinema closed.

‘Coffs Harbour City Council started a Movie Club in the mainstream theatre with the aim of showing interesting, challenging and above all enjoyable film fare for the community.

‘A new company, Screenwave, runs a fortnightly Cinamatineé program at the Coffs Harbour Jetty Memorial Theatre and a monthly mini-film festival at Bellingen and also aims to further develop a screen culture regionally to bring local and global ideas to the community.

‘I can see that the re-opened Sawtell Cinema will provide another home for these and other projects still to be imagined,’ Stephanie said.

The architectural, interior design and building have been kept local with Sawtell’s g2 architects contributing detailed plans that bring the cinema into the 21st century while retaining its heritage; local interior designer Jodie Anne Parkhill, donating her skills to the project and establishing a design that celebrates its art deco roots and FM Glenn scheduled to begin renovations in August.

The cinema is scheduled to re-open in December this year.

Find out more about the crowdfunding project and the history of Sawtell Cinema here.