14th annual Keswick film festival to mark Alhambra Cinema centenary

Tom Rennie inside the Alhambra Cinema

Tom Rennie inside the Alhambra Cinema - Credit: Archant

The red carpet will be rolled out next month when a little bit of the glamour of Cannes comes to Keswick. The town’s 14th annual film festival will be extended to seven days in tribute to the Alhambra Cinema which will have a special starring role this year as it marks its centenary.

The cinema curtain went up for the first time in February 1914 when audiences thrilled to the early blockbuster Quo Vadis, and the Alhambra has been a cinema ever since.

‘It’s one of the few built around that time that has never closed and is still a cinema,’ said its owner, Tom Rennie who bought the Alhambra in 2012 after running it for more than 20 years.

Tom, who grew up on a Scottish farm before spending 26 years working in agriculture in Africa, moved to Keswick on his return to the UK and he added: ‘This is a fantastic place to work. There is a different atmosphere in a cinema like this than you find in one of the modern multiplexes.’

But although the building itself is marking its 100th anniversary, not everything here has stayed the same during that time.

More than 600 people used to cram in to the auditorium, which retains its balcony, but with new comfy padded seats and plenty of legroom, there’s now room for 246 in comfort.

And although the 1960s 35mm projector is still in perfect working order, it has a modern neighbour in the projectionist’s room – a £60,000 digital model.

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The Alhambra’s centenary will be celebrated at the film festival with the screening of the festival committee’s choice of the best film from each decade since its doors were opened.

Such lists always prove contentious and although they have had their say (Tom’s favourites are Dances With Wolves and Chariots of Fire) he and the other members are glad to have David Miller around.

He is the group’s resident film expert who is putting together the festival programme and is a ‘walking encylcopedia of film knowledge,’ according to fellow committee member Ann Martin.

And she added: ‘The festival started as quite a small affair but it has grown and grown and we have had many of the great UK directors here over the years, including Ken Loach and Michael Winner, and John Hurt is the festival patron.

‘It has become known as the friendly film festival because people come back year after year.’

The three themes at this year’s festival are Cannes in Keswick, showing some of the best films from that other festival, Bangladeshi Arthouse, giving the UK premiere to a number of films, and the Best of the Fests, showcasing movies that have gone down well at other festivals.

The Alhambra will screen films during the festival – which runs from February 27 to March 4 – as will the Imax screen at Rheged and the Theatre by the Lake.

Eyes don’t believe it

What you see is generally what you get in Keswick – an attractive town with great shops and places to eat surrounded by some of the finest scenery. But your eyes will deceive you at The Puzzle Place. The gallery of optical illusions was opened in 2001 by Andy Wallace, who said: ‘I saw something similar on a trip to New Zealand and I was looking for something that would enable me to stay in the town.

‘We’ve appeared on television a few times and although it took a few years for word to get round about us, it is going well. There is a broad appeal for this kind of thing and that is reflected in the mix of people who visit.’

The Puzzle Place is open at weekends throughout January and seven days a week from February.

The road to Keswick

Where it is: Keswick, the capital of the northern Lakes, stands on the A5271, close to the junction of the A591 and A66 and near the north eastern shore of Derwent Water. Typing CA12 5LP into a satnav should take you to the town centre.

Where to park: Keswick is well served with pay and display car parks but they get full early during the school holidays. Free on-street parking is available away from the town centre.

Where to eat: There is an almost endless choice of restaurants, cafes, delis, pubs, hotels and takeaways offering food to suit all tastes and budgets. We particularly like The Lakeland Pedlar which serves the perfect warming food for this time of year.

Did you know: The name Keswick is said to mean ‘cheese farm’ and it was first recorded as a settlement in 1240

While you’re there: Head out of town and explore the mysterious and atmospheric Castlerigg Stone Circle which is more than 4,000 years old and offers great views over the town.