The “1970s living room” on the Bogaardenstraat was recently traded in for a hundred-year-old boilerhouse with style. But the new Lumière is not about to start showing James Bond films. Definitely not. What the cinema would like to do is cooperate in a more structural way with Maastricht University: “UM will have free use of Screen 2.”
David Deprez has an almost sacred belief in details, he says as he looks around in the restaurant of the new Lumière cinema at the Bassin. He points to a rosette above a window, something that immediately struck the artistic director. The smallest detail contributes, in his view, to an appealing atmosphere. “In the early 19th century people found decoration, even in a factory, much more important than they do now. Those were the days of art nouveau.”
The transformation of the former Sphinx factory building from boilerhouse to cinema took two years and cost eleven million euros. Completion was delayed by the discovery of an unexpectedly large batch of asbestos in February. In addition, the steel was in such poor condition (“it was like Chernobyl”) that renovation on site was impossible: everything including the roof had to be dismantled and taken to Valkenburg for repairs.
Even now – the morning Thursday 29 September – the place is crawling with workmen on ladders putting in the final screws. In the restaurant, too, workers are busily hanging boxes above the bar. The restaurant is, according to Deprez, one of the largest in the city, and has been cleverly decorated by the designers Dorine de Vos (from Hotel New York) and Rosie Stapel.
“The lighting is designed to spotlight guests at their tables, like in a film. And there are discreet panels on the walls and the ceiling that are great for the acoustics. See that wall with porcelain plates? They’re a tribute to the Sphinx but they also contribute to the acoustics, as most of the plates are actually made of fabric.”
Those who miss the “1970s living room” on the Bogaardenstraat will feel most at home in the bar under the restaurant, if only because the furniture has made the trip as well. For Deprez, the farewell to the Bogaardenstraat was quite emotional, but what he won’t miss are the awkward moments when films got stuck and visitors had to be herded out to the lobby for a free drink. “We can’t have that happen here; young people won’t put up with it.”
The new Lumière not only has more seats and bigger theatres, but also allows for more activities to be held at once, such as school plays, company presentations and breakfast sessions for groups. “The revenue is essential for us, as is the revenue from the restaurant. It all goes towards to cinema. We sell around 100,000 tickets per year, which we’re hoping to increase to 120,000. The municipal funding is the same as it was, 135,000 euros per year, which is very little considering the small cinema in Arnhem gets 300,000.” The Lumière has signed a twenty-year lease for the boilerhouse, costing 223,000 euros per year.
The new building has six screens. Last month during a UM presentation, Deprez donated Screen 2 to the university community. “It’s symbolic of course, but as far as I’m concerned the university can have free reign. The ideal would be to come up with a programme of films that enrich the curriculum. Think of the documentary about Snowden, a must for international lawyers, or Lo and behold, a topical documentary about the internet by Werner Herzog. But even a film like Amour could be interesting for students and staff in geriatric care. I can think of examples for every discipline. In this way the Lumière is seeking the ‘UM in itself’, which incidentally is also in our name. It would be nice if UM were to look for the cinema in itself.”
This is not to say the Lumière and UM never worked together. There are evenings for PhD students, collaboration with Studium Generale and programmes for study and student associations. For years students made up around 13 percent of the cinema’s visitors, says Deprez, but last year that figure dropped to 10 percent. The normal cinema seems to be more popular among students than the arthouse cinema.
To dispel a myth immediately: James Bond will never be shown in the new Lumière, although Deprez admits that the grey area between arthouse and mainstream is greater than it once was. “Florence Foster Jenkins, with Meryl Streep, is now showing in both the Pathé and the Lumière. That kind of crossover happens a few times a year. No, it won’t be frowned upon.”
Even more experimental productions will get more running time in the new cinema. “Until now the programming was done on a weekly basis. If a small film wasn’t doing well we could stop it every week. We don’t do that anymore. We’ll have a fixed schedule, so you know in advance: this film will definitely be showing four times this month. As I see it, part of our role is to provide a solid foundation for special productions.”
On 15 October, exactly 40 years after it was founded, the Lumière cinema will officially open its doors