Devon’s never had it so good. Midway through 2010, rumours began to arise. Had the world’s most famous film director, Steven Spielberg, been spotted on Dartmoor filming his adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse? The answer was yes, but we had a while to wait. Fast forward 18 months and we finally got to see the results, the majesty of the moors plain to see from the opening frames of Spielberg’s sweeping film.
An epic tale that calls to mind the films of John Ford, Spielberg’s acclaimed drama explores the bond between Dartmoor farmer’s son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey. The two friends are separated by the outbreak of World War I, and the film charts their struggles on either sides of the battle lines.
As the county basks in the glory of the subsequent media attention, on the evening of January 9th, the local area landed another major scoop. In association with the Rotary Club of Ashburton/Buckfastleigh, Paignton’s Apollo Cinema hosted a Charity Premiere, the second in the country following the World Premiere in London.
The premiere was held in aid of Help for Heroes, Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund and Michael Morpurgo’s charity Farms for City Children, and to say that the foyer of the Apollo Cinema was buzzing with excitement on the evening would be an understatement. It’s unprecedented for Torbay to play host to this kind of event, and the red carpet leading into the cinema merely stoked the interest, not to mention the shire horse patiently greeting the crowd near the steps.
This was my first film premiere and the fact it was held on my doorstep infused even the most basic of things with deep-seated joy, especially the glossy, beautifully designed tickets. As I glanced around at the make-up of the audience, all of whom were rapt at the slightest hint of the film starting, one thing struck me. Virtually every age group was catered for, from children to their parents and the elderly. Few directors are able to strike the populist chord as accurately as Spielberg, something which gives rise to a great deal of snotty criticism.
But there was a purity about the evening: this was an event, a shared experience, a sign that movies can bring people together. Truly, how many directors can boast that sort of clout in today’s cynical climate? That the Apollo Cinema were able to act as hosts is an enormous boost for the local area. Afterwards, I caught up with the cinema’s manager, Sarah O’Connor and she shared her thoughts on the evening:
“War Horse was filmed locally and there was a lot of interest in the film. Steven Spielberg spent time on Dartmoor and said it was one of the most wonderful locations he’d ever shot in. There’s obviously a lot of local interest because people can see places they know, places they’ve visited, places where they live,” said Sarah.
“[The novel] was also written by Michael Morpurgo, who lives in North Devon, and we wanted to tie that in with a premiere in the local area because we thought Torbay and Devon deserved one.
“We pushed really hard for permission from Disney and Dreamworks in order that we could show the film before everyone else. We were really lucky to get it the day after the London premiere -it’s something that’s unheard of in the Torbay area.”
Sarah then explained how the cinema went about securing the premiere: “We had to make a presentation to Disney, which we waited months to hear back from.
“Then we were approached by the Rotary Club, and they said they’d like to do a charity premiere of War Horse. So together, we made another presentation, and I think they got fed up with us asking! But they ultimately said yes. It’s great for Torbay to be able to host this, it’s been a superb event and it’s turned out to be a fantastic film as well.”
Finally, Sarah explained the Apollo’s committment to local media and culture: “Apollo Cinema is trying really hard to integrate itself into the community and become a community cinema. We’re trying to come up with a product that encourages a wider variety of films than other cinemas in the area, and we have the facilities to follow that through.
“We’ve expanded our content to include live opera and ballet performances from the Royal Opera House, West End performances, musicals and so on. What we’re trying to do is find content that’s suitable for everybody so that all everybody can come here and find something that they want to see.”
Many thanks go to Apollo Cinema, Sarah O’Connor, Philip Darby and the other members of the Ashburton/Buckfastleigh Rotary Club for a superb evening.