The Last Projectionist is a documentary by Thomas Lawes looking at the people left behind by the ‘evolution’ of the cinema-going experience; the projectionists.
Now, due to the technology advances, the role of a projectionist is a rapid dying one and Lawes examines the role of the projectionist through the lifetime of cinema in general and the cinema he owns, The Electric in Birmingham. When it was established in 1909, The Electric was one of the first purpose-built cinemas under the new cinema safety regulations passed in Britain. It has now been restored to its original name and art deco glory but during that time of flux The Electric featured news reels, cartoons, porn, mainstream and independent films with varying degrees of commercial success. Through it all the projectionists were there manning the machines, bringing the films to life.
Lawes is amiable company throughout his film and has assembled a number of projectionists, now mostly retired, to sit and discuss their profession. They talk passionately about their working conditions, the changes they have experienced in the cinema industry and the pros and cons of the new digital era.
Moving through the decades, the documentary employs animation reflecting the style of each era and providing an insightful history lesson about cinema in Britain. Cinemagoers of all ages are interviewed to show the social impact the cinema had on their lives and how the role of the cinema had to adapt to the impact television had on all of our lives.
For any cinèphiles there is a fascinating section demonstrating the differences between 35mm, IMAX film, 3D and digital with a number of current or retired cinema managers discussing what the changes in format have had on the cinema experience. The overall tone of The Last Projectionist is one of love for the cinema but does not allow itself to become bogged down in nostalgia nor retreat to only addressing itself to pure film buff obscurity. In short, it makes welcome viewing for anyone who has chosen to leave their couches to sit with others on cushioned flip seats and watch a film where it was made to be seen, in the cinema.