Alice in Videoland & Cinematheque: A Much Needed Wonderland

I discover most theatres in New Zealand by trusting word-of-mouth recommendations from Kiwis in the industry. This allows me to plan my next project through the wisdom of life-long cinema owners and it always leads me to wonderful places and friendly characters. I can’t tell you how many Kiwis recommended that I pay a visit to a little cinema in the heart of Christchurch; Alice in Videoland and Cinematheque. I finally made my pilgrimage to the historic city in August.

I was well aware of the internationally renowned Christchurch earthquake from 2011. I remember praying for the people of Christchurch that summer, long before I ever imagined that I would visit New Zealand just four years later. When I first arrived to the city, I did not expect to see such haunting devastation. The city resembles a fresh jigsaw puzzle with piles of rubble clustered in vacant lots along every road. Long crate containers act as pillars to crutch weak buildings and an eerie vacantness is present in the streets. I felt as if I was in a sc-ifi movie and I could not imagine what the community experienced during that disaster. But sprouting among the debris is a strong and optimistic progress of cranes and hardhats. Construction is currently the main industry of the city as they rebuild their community.


 


But out of the countless structures that did perish in the violent earthquake, Alice in Videoland endured and stands tall among its crumbling neighbors. Geoff Lealand of the website www.cinemasofnz.info describes his visit to Alice. “‘A curious conduit to cinematic enlightenment’ : still standing as a substantial two-story building as the re-build of Christchurch’s earthquake-shattered CBD happens around it, Alice in Videoland both preserves its past and offers much hope for the future. Before the quakes, it was probably the best DVD-rental store in New Zealand, especially for art house titles (check out their online catalogue!) After the quakes, it continued to rent out its huge collection from temporary premises, and then re-opened in the original location in March 2012. A new 38-seater theatre was added in late 2012, featuring an Egyptian theme (to match the ‘Luxor’ carpet)and a daytime/evening programme of art house films (around about 3-4 films per week). This is a great addition, especially as the 2011 earthquake destroyed most cinema screens in Christchurch. It was rightly awarded the Independent Cinema of the Year title, in the flicks.co.nz 2015 poll.” Due to the success of their first screening room, the management of Alice recently installed a second viewing room to meet demand.


 


I was in awe when I finally stepped into this local icon. It was obvious why it had been constantly recommended to me. Colorful posters, charismatic statues, and life sized cut-outs of famous movie stars inhabited the store. And the DVD collection was quite impressive to physically see in a world so quickly overtaken by technology. There were movies for a lifetime of viewing. All of the DVDs seemed to be organized by genres including Horror, Classic New Zealand Film, Documentary, and on and on. But my favorite feature of the DVD store was the “100 Greatest Films” selection. The shelving was displayed within a biblical tomb and it is a favorite go-to spot among patrons.

Jeremy Stewart, the current owner of Alice, kindly treated me to a cuppa coffee that morning from the cafe conveniently located through an adjourning door. We chatted about the past, present, and future of his family business. Founded by his father in 1985, the store has undergone many transitions. From layouts to building changes and from VHS to DVD, the store has managed to survive amidst the modern entertainment era. But a main factor in that survival has been the expansion of a small cinema within the store. The cinema has been thriving and while I was talking to Jeremy (10 am on a Tuesday morning) people were coming into the store to reserve tickets for upcoming showings. It was the busiest I have ever seen a cinema that early. Jeremy explained that the earthquake destroyed the majority of cinemas in Christchurch and that there were currently only a limited number of screens in the city. Christchurch is hungry for entertainment and Alice seems to be a place where people can socialize over coffee in the morning, see a movie right after, and grab a DVD to watch for later in the week. It currently has found a successful formula among its patrons.


 


Our discussion then veered toward my Fulbright project and I asked Jeremy if he would like a free custom video created for his business. He recommended a 30 year anniversary video. That was a great suggestion and I began to brainstorm with my camera. I started snapping photographs of the posters, knickknacks, and of the little details within the store. Alice pays such an attention to detail; I aimed to mirror that business mentality within  my anniversary video. Sticking with the theme of Alice, I produced a whimsical “down the rabbit hole” timeline that the theatre could present to its patrons to commemorate their success. Using images displayed throughout the store, I produced the video below that can now be viewed in the Alice Cinematheque. Please enjoy on Youtube or Vimeo.


 


Much like Lewis Carroll wrote in the original Alice in Wonderland novel, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Jeremy and the staff of Alice in Videoland/Cinemathque recognize the changing entertainment needs of their audience and have managed to adapt with the rapidly changing times. The next time you are in Christchurch, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to this wonderland where you will surely discover a gem in the center of this recovering city.

Special thanks to Alice in Videoland, Fulbright New Zealand, www.cinemasofnz.info, and The University of Waikato.

Visit the Alice Website at http://www.aliceinvideoland.co.nz/

 



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