On a Wednesday afternoon, a young man in a short-sleeved shirt reads to himself from a film poster in front of a large cinema entrance that looks like a set from Hollywood’s golden era, with plastic letters hanging from neon lights announcing the current films being screened.
The design of the cinema and the mixture of films being screened give the place an early 20th-century feel, quite in keeping with its surroundings in the Eixample. Cine Phenomena (Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 168) doesn’t just offer blockbusters in their original language, but also classic, avant-garde and lesser-known recent films. In the four large, poster-filled windows, Gone with the Wind (1939) is next to Captain America: Civil War (2016), and a selection of Eighties Verhoeven sci-fi movies are next to the Angry Birds (2016) animated feature.
As I enter, a man in his forties extends a hand to check my ticket. After saying that I have an interview with the director of the cinema, he extends his hand again, this time as a sign of greeting. “This helps me get to know the audience first hand,” explained Nacho Cerdà, a film director and the man behind the cinema, which has become an urban sensation just two years after opening.
The idea is to reintroduce a touch of majesty to the cinema experience
Cerdà’s idea is to reintroduce a touch of majesty to the cinema experience, which he believes has suffered from the robotic consumption of movies in shopping centre multiscreen cinemas, producing “static audiences wandering like nameless passengers around an airport building”. “There is no communication there, no shared experience,” he reflected, as classical music resounded in the cinema’s lobby, adorned with thick red carpets and 1930s Hollywood-themed decor.
The story of Cine Phenomena started six years ago. Together with a group of peers, Cerdà organised numerous film events in rented cinema halls across Spain, bringing old, new and new-with-a-twist films to target specific and general audiences, with great success. Two years ago, Cerdà secured funding to convert the old two-screen Cine Napoles into a single auditorium with 449 seats, with the help of local interior designer Elisabet Campoy. In technical terms, this auditorium has few equals in the film world, equipped with a 4K projector, Dolby Atmos and even an analogue projector for non-digital enthusiasts. The meticulous precision of the screen’s positioning—one of the biggest in Spain—and a perfectly tuned, hidden-from-sight sound system make watching films in Cine Phenomena a real treat.
The man behind Phenomena, film director and screenwriter Nacho Cerdà
“Technology is not everything, but we do our best to control all the factors that contribute to the overall quality of the cinema experience—there are no commercials, for example.” With the seats unnumbered, film lovers sometimes wait outside for up to an hour before the film starts, creating a general buzz of anticipation about the place before they embark on a cinematic journey. “Our motto is: ‘The experience starts at the entrance’,” explained Cerdà. “It is like a path towards fantasy. The entrance is light, the lobby has dimmed lights and the auditorium is quite dark. This is also very important when the audience is leaving the cinema. The lights do not go on immediately after the end of the projection. We try to encourage a gradual return to reality, prolonging the experience of film and cinema, unlike the commercial multiscreens where they usher you out through an emergency door.”
Cerdà believes that the growing popularity of film festivals, such as the Festival Internacional de Cine Fantástico in Sitges, show that interest in watching films at the cinema is not diminishing—quite the contrary. He plans to expand by offering new activities at Cine Phenomena, which so far include masterclasses given by leading Spanish film directors—something he hopes will help recuperate the educational character of film.
During my first visit to Cine Phenomena, I felt a mixture of relief and exhilaration to have finally found a place that offers a wide array of genres whilst meeting the highest technical standards. Once the thick door shuts, there is little in the outside world that will make you step out of that nicely sealed capsule, as close to the film as possible.