IT HAS been praised for its stylish architecture, its restaurant and bar, but the proof of the Pálás pudding will be what Galway’s long-awaited arthouse cinema shows on its three screens.
The woman choosing the films that will grace those screens is Charlene Lydon and last week she sat down with me to give a flavour of what audiences can expect. While she grew up in Carlow, with a surname like Lydon it’s no surprise that Charlene has strong Galway connections; her dad is from Knockferry and the family often spent summer holidays here during her childhood. I begin by asking how she got into the world of film.
“I’ve always been a film buff and I decided in secondary school it was the only thing I wanted to do job-wise,” she replies. “I studied film production and did a master's in film theory and history, with a view to becoming a film journalist. I worked at that for a while then got a job in the script development department of Element Pictures which I loved.
"From there I moved to Volta, Element’s video on demand website, where I worked as both programmer and editorial manager, which involved overseeing the blog, filming interviews, and putting them online. When Element re-opened the Light House cinema in 2012 I expanded my programming into that and now Pálás has opened so my role is growing again.”
Element’s stewardship of the Light House will guide the company’s approach to Pálás. “We felt our way into it and got to know our audience," says Charlene. "We do things like late night screenings where we can be experimental with film. We also have a strong social media presence so we get a lot of people telling us what they want to see and that helps too. In terms of new films, you sometimes have to trust your gut instinct because you don’t always get to see them in advance
"I read all the reviews and get a sense if a film is of particular interest. There were other factors as well in growing the audience which we did very successfully. We worked hard at making the café nice. We also often throw a party as part of the late night screenings; for example we did a Point Break beach party last week so people turned up in Hawaiian shirts and we served margaritas.
"We do things differently and people know it’s a good night out. We’ve always tried to make the Light House feel like a home for the film community and offer a bit more of a personalised experience. In terms of Pálás, the Galway audience is different from the Light House so it’ll take us a while to figure out, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty of help with people telling us what they’d like.”
Fans of vintage movies will be among those catered for at Pálás. “I personally love those old Hollywood movies,” Charlene asserts. “Last year the Light House did a season called Hepburn Forever which showed the films of both Audrey and Katharine Hepburn and was really popular. We’ve also done a Hitchcock season and an Ennio Morricone season and audiences loved those – and we have a wonderful new reissue of A Fistful of Dollars coming soon to Pálás. Netflix and Sky don’t show a lot of those old films and there is still a huge appetite for them.”
Charlene lists some of Pálás’s coming attractions; “Fantastic Woman has just won the Best Foreign Film Oscar and that’s running now – it’s a great film, really beautiful. Then we have Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here with Joaquin Phoenix. That played at Cannes last year, it was a late addition to the programme so didn’t get a lot of attention but Joaquin Phoenix still ended up winning Best Actor for it and he is brilliant.
"We have him again, playing Jesus in Mary Magdalene, which is a feminist take on the Magdalene story. We also have a documentary about Vivienne Westwood, Punk, Icon, Activist, and the new Wes Anderson film Isle of Dogs (which will be part of a Wes Anderson season ). We’ll do stuff for children in the summer and we also do events for Halloween and Christmas - in the Light House we show Christmas films pretty much every day during December and they’re really popular. We want to give you the best of films whether that is a tiny Russian film or a big film like Dunkirk.”
Every three months the Light House runs a night of short films by emergent Dublin film-makers and Charlene looks forward to doing something similar here in Galway at Pálás. Her programming even extends into the Pálás bar, as she tells me at the conclusion of our interview; “We have a gorgeous bar and I hope to use that for various events.
"At the Light House we run a monthly cinema book club; we meet, watch the film of the book and then meet in the bar for an hour or so and chat about it. For instance, we did Jane Austen’s Emma one week but instead of showing a direct movie version of it we showed the film Clueless and that created some very interesting discussions. I love doing that book club; we’ve been doing it for over five years and there’s never any shortage of ideas for books and movies to choose. We do quizzes as well which are fun. We want to have things like that at Pálás and establish it as a venue where film lovers like to come and hang out.”
Lots to look forward to then at Pálás. Details of the cinema’s programme and online booking are via palas.ie