Non-fiction Abroad

On Living Behind the Queen’s Film Theatre
Kylie Pace

I arrived in Belfast knowing only I’d be staying with my boyfriend. “Do you live far from the bus station?” I asked, preparing myself for a trek out to the suburbs. I was relieved, then, when he told me that no, he didn’t live far, he lives near Queen’s – not that I knew where that is, either.

The walk from the bus stop took only fifteen minutes, and is a longer walk than I usually ever make from his apartment as he lives just off the nerdy yet trendy, affordably elegant Botanic Avenue, with its multiple grocers, bookshops, coffee shops, and thrift clothing stores. To walk farther than the length of this street would just be disappointing, unless if I turn in the opposite direction and walk through the university campus and into the botanic garden.

Of course, I need not turn in either direction. The rear of my boyfriend’s flat looks out at the back wall of the Queen’s Film Theatre, although at first I didn’t appreciate that this tall grey wall hid art on its interior side. But at first I didn’t realize so many things. Coming from Ethiopia, I found prices to be inflated, and while I understood how to dress for monsoons, the drizzle surprised me with its chill. When I finally splurged on the theatre, I chose a film set in Belfast and wrote it off as geographically-appropriate education.

The cinema, although operated in association with the university, has a bar in the place of a concession stand. The prices for wines, whiskeys, and local brews are written on a chalkboard above the student workers’ heads; I have not found a popcorn machine. The clientele – professors, middle aged women out for a girls’ night, well-dressed students out on dates – linger in the dimly-lit bar area until the last minute, and then find seats in one of the theatre’s two screening rooms.

I came to observe these locals many times due to my discovery of half-price Mondays. Over the course of my extended visit to Belfast I thus saw, in this cinema, the following movies: Take This Waltz, The Queen of Versailles, Samsara, and Tabu. All were excellent, although I won’t give any reviews, and somehow aided by the theatre itself although, returning to the drink-swilling procession into the chairs, the actual screening rooms should be detrimental.

The seats are plushy, covered in red velvet, with armrests that end in a cupholder that doesn’t fit any of the bar’s drinks. In fact, you’re not allowed to take alcohol into the screening room, although, this being Belfast, I can only imagine that rule is not strictly enforced or tolerated. The problem with the seats is that they are too low, in relation to both the ground and the screen. After only ten minutes my neck begins to suspect that the theory behind this theatre was to keep the seats at all one level, and raise the screen up along the wall for everyone to be able to see it equally uncomfortably. I have not sampled enough area cinemas to know if this problem is unique to this theatre, or a characteristic of most Northern Irish cinemas.

The patrons, so sophisticated at the bar, now begin to squawk and ruin the previews, if there were any. So far, advertisements for the following brands have run in the same order before each film: Linx shower gel, Peroni beer, a charity that lets cold runaways telephone their crying mums, San Miguel beer, Budweiser beer, Coors Light beer, pedestrian safety, Total Recall. You might mistake the final subject as a preview, but it is not. It is painfully long fake coverage of the Total Recall premier, featuring a scripted interview with Colin Farrell that makes me turn my attention to the personal conversations taking place all around me. Perhaps no one had a chance to catch up in the bar; perhaps this is a strategy to survive such flat pre-film content.

These complaints are quickly forgotten, though, once the film begins. No one talks. No one texts. No one seems drunk. This film theatre, we the audience know, would not – would not! – show us shit. Nor is this endorsement aided by alcohol, as the half-price offer, as well as my budget, extend only to admission.

There’s always some confusion at the end of the movie, or at least I always end up in the middle of a row bookended by people who want to have a seated chat that far outlasts the credits. I hop over their low chairs and into the rainy alleyway. I am inside my boyfriend’s apartment before the last of the audience has buttoned their coats. It’s a good location, but so cold for August.

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