The Luna Cinema celebrates 10 years in the open air
FROM FLOATING IN A DINGHY in Brockwell Lido with ‘Jaws’, to watching ‘Top Gun’ in an RAF museum, Luna has always tried to match the screen with the film. Taking in well-loved classics (Top Gun, Grease, Labyrinth) and the latest Oscar-contenders (Dunkirk, The Shape Of Water), events are run in castles, abbeys and parks nationwide. With 175 screenings this summer, Luna strives to keep things fresh and offer more off-beat fare, like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Blade Runner 2049 to keep audiences interested.
Founder George Wood, 37, explains:
When people look at our schedule, I don’t want just to be known for Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, and Grease. Also, our team would go stale if we always relied on the same films every year. They love the fact we’re showing quirky stuff like Three Billboards.
THE IDEA FOR LUNA Cinema was first imagined from a south London hospital bed. In 2007, George - an actor and presenter - was hospitalised for six months after a serious motorcycle accident. While recovering in hospital, he began to rethink his career and set upon his quest to popularise open-air cinema in the UK.
Dulwich Park is my local, so that was the first call I ever made. It wasn’t a hard sell, and they got on board quickly, which was great because it gave us time to perfect our method before we expanded to other venues.
Projecting films on to an inflatable screen - which sounded to wary venues ‘a bit like a bouncy castle that would blow over’ - George soon brought cynics around with quick eco-friendly set-ups and a communal festival vibe. Soon, it started to pay off.
The real breakthrough was Hampton Court Palace, which was a domino effect for all the other heritage sites, like Blenheim Palace [Darkest Hour] and the Tower of London [Gladiator]. Before I knew it, they were approaching me!
Nowadays, George doesn't regret leaving his acting career behind:
I love that the work I put in is directly in proportion to the success of the business. The frustration I always felt as an actor - with the dead ends and missed opportunities - was that powerlessness, a sense of going back to square one. With Luna, I felt there was something I was better at, it was my passion, and it felt right. From that moment on, I never sat in a theatre and thought that I'd like to be up on the screen.
LUNA KIDS, new this year, sees the company offer daytime family movies for the first time. A long-held ambition, it was previously impossible due to technological limitations. George explains how he spent three years eagerly waiting for the tech to develop:
The problem I’ve always wanted to overcome is not being able to show films before 9pm, because we project. Every year we’d upgrade our gear, and the production team would tell us we only gained seven minutes! With films starting so late, we knew we couldn’t get a family audience at that time, so there was a massive gap in the market.
With LED screens finally catching up in quality, Luna has the green light from major studios for daytime screenings. Luna Kids will offer three screenings a day, with the programme ranging from Aladdin to Coco, The Lion King to Paddington 2.
We had our first kid last year, and we realised we couldn’t go to the cinema like we used to. All of the things that would put you off as a young parent in the cinema - not being able to breast-feed, being worried about noise etc - I felt we could fix. We could have a comfortable environment for everyone, as a service to parents more than anything.
FOR SPORTS FANS, Luna will diversify from cinema and showcase some of this summer’s high-profile sporting events. Luna Beach, a month-long Brighton residency, will screen the World Cup, Wimbledon and F1 alongside The Last Jedi, Quadrophenia and Escape To Victory. From Luna’s early days, George has always had designs on venues outside of London. He was unsurprised by the demand when he embarked on his first nationwide tour in 2015.
I felt it would play better in the provinces because London’s a lot more transient. When we play Lincoln Castle, for example, I feel that people have really embraced us and want us to come back. It’s shown that open-air cinema is universal, it’s not exclusive to this generation, or this location.
AFTER 10 EXCITING YEARS, George looks forward to using the technological innovations of LED screens, as well as mobile ticketing and smart apps, to further enhance the experience. The company has partnered with Pique, who offer disposable picnic hampers for punters at the venue. He sees the appetite for open-air cinema continuing to grow and hopes to keep the old classics alive for a new generation.
What open-air cinema has shown is that the nostalgia people have for older films is something that’s carried forward through generations. Top Gun, Labyrinth, The Goonies, they should be long-gone museum pieces, but they’ve still got an audience.
I’d love to explore that nostalgia more.
Luna Cinema runs until October 7th.
Luna Beach runs from June 24th to July 15th.
Luna Kids runs from July 21st to September 4th.