A little bit of Hollywood right here in Lancashire!

Palace Cinema owner Lara Hewitt can’t open this Christmas....but she is determined to mark the year with her own film, The Palace Diaries. Fiona Finch reports from Longridge.

Thursday, 19th November 2020, 12:08 am
Lara Hewitt, photographed outside The Palace cinema and theatre, Longridge, when it was still open for business pre-Covid-19

Faced with the challenge of a closed cinema this Christmas, filmmaker Lara Hewitt has come up with the next best thing - she is making a film.

Lara has faced the ongoing economic challenge of the shutdown of the Palace Cinema at Longridge, due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Staff had to be made redundant and Lara has used the unexpected time to work on film projects.

Lara Hewitt, pictured on her travels through Europe, when she interviewed people about their thoughts about Brexit.

Now she is turning her attention to creating a new Christmas advert for the Palace and a Christmas film for release next year.

The film, entitled The Palace Diaries, draws initially on her own life experiences running the cinema over the past few years.

She is writing the script and will appear in it, with filming planned for December and January.

She said: “We can’t open the cinema this Christmas but we can make you a film for Christmas...if we can’t show you films we’ll make you films.”

Scene from the Palace's promotional Christmas film 2019

Auditions have already been held and parts cast for major roles .

As for her own starring role as a cinema proprietor facing the loss of her beloved cinema she said: “Art is mimicking life. This is a way of doing something and doing what we can do and helping ourselves and doing something to connect with each other as well.”

She continued :”It starts very close to the bone, very close to the truth in Christmas 2020 addressing the fact that we have this closed cinema and in our (film) story the cinema is up for sale or being sold. I arrive back from a break-up abroad and I’m quarantining at the cinema.”

The new prospective owner and Lara discover diaries in the cellars penned by the last three owners of the cinema - cue scenes from the Peace Christmas of 1914, the 1960s and 80s, and the cinema ghosts who don’t want to let go, plus sub-plots.

She said: “It’s a film a lot about loneliness and how we’re all forced to be apart this year and how we are going to connect with different lives and how we manage through the years to connect.

“It’s all about love and loss and letting go and moving on as well... Questions lots of us have had to face this year - when do we have to let go? What will survive this year - what things or relationships? All films are about people making choices.”

She will, she said, be confronting the whole issues of Covid-19 and how it has affected all our lives. She said: “Lots of people are saying they don’t want to film anything about Covid. Whereas I’m saying I 100 per cent want to look it in the face ...what it’s like not to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, to do a socially-distanced Santa’s grotto. We have to record something for posterity and hopefully make something beautiful in art.”

Above all it will be a feel-good film: “You give yourself happy endings you don’t always get in life. It’s important our film has magic in it. Christmas when I was a little girl always meant magic - can we believe in magic any more?”

Based in a small northern town it will be a romantic comedy too. She said: “It’s absolutely done with love and humour and I think very much in the tradition of things like Brassed Off and The Full Monty and all those wonderful northern community-driven films. But it is also showing Lancashire and the north in an attractive light as well. It’s not all grim up north - it’s wonderful and full of memories of all the people running the cinema over 100 years to this present day - all people making dreams happen. It’s got loads of good humour in it...It’s Hollywood meets Longridge!”

Those already cast include a local family (who will work in their own Covid secure bubble) and actors from Preston, Kendal, Bradford, Salford, Stockport, Bolton .and one actor from Surrey.

Lara acknowledges the film will be a logistics challenge, working amid Covid-19 restrictions.

Last Saturday she was contacting shopkeepers and supermarkets locally to see if she can have permission to film in local venues when Covid rules permit.

Lara is hopeful, pandemic restrictions allowing, there will still be scope for other local residents to appear in the film and is grateful to those who have responded to calls to help behind the scenes.

She is busy scouting locations and adds: “I’ve been auditioning, writing, sorting out production insurance and legal documents and risk assessments for Covid - all that stuff.”

With the film Datsche already under her belt Lara will be working with long time collaborator Stephan Bookas, who will be cameraman and director.

She said: “ He did the Christmas (Palace advert) film last year and Datsche. He could have been in Venice (working on Mission Impossible). He chose to work on this. “

Lara had not kept an actual diary since reopening The Palace, but said: “Stephan has come and filmed me and kept a film diary since March 2018.”

Lara is hoping to make the film on a shoestring budget of £40,000 or £50,000 and said any support is welcome, including local businesses providing lunch for the film team ,as she predicts they will be working very long days in January.

But first there is this year’s Christmas advertising film to make.

Last year’s was featured on TV and got lots of You Tube views and Lara hopes to release this year’s the week before Christmas.

Meanwhile she remains hopeful that The Palace Diaries will be screened at The Palace cinema in Longridge at Christmas 2021.

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