Keep Sheffield Cinematic!

If you live in Sheffield and have a beating heart you’ve probably already signed the petitions against demolition of large parts of the CIQ and Devonshire Green shops.

As part of Urban Design Week in Sheffield, the Society of Architects invited local residents to a “soapbox slam” to air their views about the city. Mel took up the challenge to do a three minute talk on behalf of Film Club – read a version here:


Keep Sheffield Cinematic!

Think of the great cities as they’re portrayed in cinema and they’ll have their fair share of iconic buildings – Notre Dame in Paris, Brooklyn Bridge in New York, The Coliseum in Rome, Casa Battlo in Barcelona – you‘ve seen them all at the movies.

Yet the main players are nearly always the small quirky places and the spaces in between buildings. Space in a city scene is something that film-makers understand because it’s how you orient your characters. Space to walk and move around but also space just to look at the world.

At Magic Lantern we like to walk and cycle and because we’re always on the look out for venues we spend a lot of time just looking – as if through a movie camera viewfinder. You should try it. There is so much unexpected beauty in an old city.

You don’t have to go abroad to see this. By the Thames near London Bridge – walking up Waverley Steps in Edinburgh – the view over the city as the train pulls into Durham – the well worn path to the Showroom from our HQ at Bloc studios – none of these are particularly iconic but they all have brilliantly cinematic views, like something that has been lovingly crafted and staged – because, well, they have.

When you look at a city as if through a viewfinder, as if you’re making a movie, you probably don’t include any shops or chain stores. They’re just not that attractive or interesting. You’re making a film, not an advert. You want to see something more quirky, more of a background for human interaction and life, something a bit better looking to go into your shot.

Often that will mean old buildings and spaces, with many lives behind them and a story to tell.


Last year, film club was invited to be part of Sheffield’s “Light Night” celebrations, which was a great idea in theory except that crowds of people turned up when it wasn’t dark yet so the film projections and light show we’d planned weren’t actually visible. We asked people to come back later but not everyone could do that – so we took them for a walk to our studio instead.

The area we‘re based in is around the old industrial buildings of Arundel and Sidney streets – probably the creative graffiti capital of Sheffield – and if you take to the side streets between the Rutland pub to Decathlon, almost every step you take contains an extraordinary scene through your viewfinder. They’ve been neglected, these streets, so there is still space between the buildings and a chance to see the skies and the views across the city to other buildings and spaces, giving it a wonderful sense of coherence. You could call it bleak and industrial but look carefully and you’ll see so much more.

It wasn’t what the Light Night crowds had turned out for but a few people got it, that instead they were seeing their own little bit of cinema in 3D and Scope, right there in the flesh.

Now this area is due for demolition and despite public protest, the council has given the go ahead.

We probably can’t stop that happening – don’t you get the feeling that this is a done deal made years ago? – but this is a plea not to build too high, to keep sight of the skyline, to respect the generations of craftsmen, artists and workers in the fabric of these streets, keep some of those “spaces between” that make this area so interesting. Keep the sense of the unexpected, the contrast between ancient and modern. Keep the grittiness that makes this Sheffield and nowhere else.

Keep Sheffield cinematic!

Because otherwise the iconic view of the city is going to be a faceless block of student flats, chain coffee shops and car parks – or God forbid, that scene in “The Full Monty” where they’re pulling a knackered car out of the canal.

Is that really the way we want to be seen?

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