If we compare the human body to a city, the nervous system would comprise all of the many businesses that line the city’s streets. Christchurch businesses are noticeably flourishing and the city has never been healthier for it.
Director of Lumiere Cinemas, Nick Paris is just the person upon whom the responsibility for the resident cinema at the Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora should have been placed.
What Nick and business partner Max Hoffman have created in Lumiere Cinemas is reminiscent of a time gone by…
Films have been showing in New Zealand theatres and halls since the 1890s but the first purpose-built cinema opened in Wellington in 1910 – ‘the Kings’ (Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand).
In the century since, New Zealand’s film industry has grown to become known on the international stage. Whether films are created here or watched here, New Zealanders love a good movie.
For Nick, going to the cinema represents an existential experience. “You use all of your senses – that’s what I like about going to the movies. It’s not just sight but taste, sound, smell, touch, it’s everything,” he says.
Nick can tell you what cinema was operating closest to you when you were born. He could walk blindfolded in to every one of Christchurch’s cinemas from 1960s onwards and tell you which one it was by the smell alone.
The Arts Centre and within it Lumiere Cinemas restores a much loved space in the city people have long been waiting to return to.
Boy from Burwood
Nick Paris’ ingress to life was like something out of a movie. Born in the 1950s in the tobacco fields of Motueka, his family moved to Christchurch when he was just a young boy.
He grew up in a council flat in Burwood and likens the diesel bus trip to Cathedral Square for the movies, to a trip overseas for many other families. This was at a time when there were up to 10 different cinemas in the Square – the most amount of cinemas in one area in the southern hemisphere.
The cinema made an impression on Nick from even before the moment he stepped foot in one. At first, it was almost the wrong impression.
“Let it be said that my mother just about killed my interest in film from the get-go because the first film she took me to was Doctor Zhivago – I mean most kids went to see Dumbo or Bambi or something. It was a film that passed me by – I was six or seven,” Nick recalls.
Thankfully that interest grew over the course of more trips with his mum. At first it was the architecture he was fascinated by – all the gargoyles and gothic features throughout the Square – and then, once inside, the smell of old picture palaces.
As time went on, Nick’s attention became increasingly focused on what was playing in front of him.
A frank conversation with his careers advisor, who spoke of ‘antisocial’ hours and poor pay, did little to deter Nick from pursuing a career in film. He pestered Laing Masters – by hand-written letter no less – begging him for a chance at becoming a projectionist. Eventually, Laing relented.
The first job that set Nick on this pathway – if not ingrained from birth – was at the Hollywood cinema in Sumner, one of Christchurch’s only original cinemas still in operation today.
From there he moved around cinemas in the suburbs – New Brighton, Riccarton, the Arts Centre, the Metro, West End, and Alice Video for 21 years. For a time he even lived in Westport and ran the St James on behalf of the city council.
“I was always fascinated by suburban cinemas because they were basically village community centres; there was one in every suburb and that’s where you congregated before mobile phones and the internet existed,” Nick says.
During this time, peppered into the mix, Nick ran a couple of hobby cinemas. One occurred during the weekends in Kaiapoi, called the Rialto, which was the former cinema turned community centre; and the other at the Isaac Theatre Royal, showing Sunday night double features.
“That was running on a razor wire but such is the passion that I did it still,” Nick says.
“Being your own boss is a learning curve. You find out a lot about yourself that you never knew; it really is full of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows to be honest.”
Step into the unknown
Walking through the doors of Lumiere Cinemas is as close to walking into a circa-1950s cinema as you will find today.
Indicative in every sense of the romantic bygone era of the cinema, Lumiere is a haven for those seeking the social entertainment experience the cinema was originally envisioned to deliver.
Down to the finest of details it evokes sensory connotations of a beloved pastime – but it is also blessed with modern nuances.
Lumiere’s two theatres – Bernhardt and Bardot – are flanked by signature art deco bars and private areas found hidden throughout a warren of discreet nooks.
The finest craft beers, wines, barista coffee and gourmet edibles are offered alongside traditional cinema fare. Nick says the hospitality aspect of cinema going is a game changer and it just so happens he runs a hospitality business with a cinema attached to it.
The Arts Centre is the perfect setting for a stunning lead in; but the second you step through its doors, Lumiere Cinemas is very much its own space.
“We are on a beautiful edge of the city here, it’s so quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” Nick says. “I wanted to make it a transition from groundhog day into the unknown.”
One element of old cinema that is important to Nick and that remains at Lumiere, is the social interaction between people.
“Where Netflix offers a comfortable experience in the privacy of one’s home, it doesn’t offer the communal experience with strangers and people really feed in to that, we feed off other people’s reactions.”
To that end Nick has employed individuals who offer genuine conversation that enhances the experience of cinemagoers.
After two years in the making, what Nick and his business partners have created is an inviting, comfortable environment for a niche market but one that is inclusive of many markets. Nick says you can think of it as a 365-days a year film festival for all ages.
Lumiere Cinemas certainly promises a different experience to that of a modern multiplex cinema. “They do what they do well and we do what we do well,” Nick says.
Lumiere’s programming is aimed at mainly cross over films that appeal across markets; and Nick has relatively free range when it comes to selecting the films using the CRS schedule of all releases.
Lumiere Cinemas opened in June 2019 with the Polish Film Festival and it has more recently hosted the International Film Festival, the German Film Festival, and more themed film weeks.
They say you can’t please everyone but can you? The incredible feedback received has been reflected in the more than 14,000 cinema goers that have stepped foot through its doors since they opened.
Nick says it is a privilege to consider the space Lumiere’s and he finds solace in the fact he is honouring the bones of the building (being the old Fine Arts block for the University of Canterbury).
“The Latin meaning of the word edu is ‘to learn what is already within’. Cinemas evoke all these emotions, experiences, thoughts and precepts, so the cinema is a place of learning as well,” Nick says.
By Lydia Truesdale