Welcome Home – a return to QFT
Someone has written Welcome Home in huge letters across the chalkboard in the QFT foyer. I was expecting to feel a little emotional: this is my first visit to my favourite cinema in almost five months. I wasn’t expecting actual tears, but I’m definitely on the verge
I’ve been coming to Queen's Film Theatre at least once a week for over twenty years. It’s become so much more than a cinema to me. I love the eclectic selection of films they screen, and over the years I’ve discovered many of my favourite directors and actors in this building. However, if I’m really honest. It’s not the movies I come to the QFT for. I come to escape when life’s a bit hectic. I come looking for inspiration and fresh ideas. I come for the community I’ve found through the Dementia Friendly Screenings I’ve been hosting for the last three years and the great conversations I have with the staff. I come because this place always makes me feel welcome. I feel safe and familiar here. Whoever wrote that message on the chalk board, understands what the QFT means. For me, and many, many people, the QFT is a second home.
I thought I loved film. I thought Lockdown would give me a chance to watch all the classic movies I’ve always meant to get around to. In reality I watched almost nothing. My concentration was shot to pieces. I couldn’t even make it through twenty minutes without frantically checking news websites on my phone. I’d watch endless movie trailers, none of which appealed in the slightest. It wasn’t that I’d stopped loving films. I just didn’t want to watch them by myself on a tiny laptop in my room.
Lockdown taught me how much I love cinema. For me, film isn’t a solitary pursuit, though I’m often to be found flying solo at the QFT of a Sunday night. I might go to the cinema by myself but it’s the one place on the planet I never feel alone. I love the idea that everyone in the screen -whether they’re strangers or friends- is sharing the same experience. For the movie’s duration, we’re drawn together by a single story and though we might have a variety of different reactions and, afterward in the queue for the bar, find ourselves animatedly debating the film’s merit, I’ve come to realise that films are richer, more resonant, and, just plain better, when experienced in community. It’s the people who make a cinema feel like home.
So, yes, I’m a little emotional tonight, encountering all those lovely familiar faces smiling at me from behind their plexiglass wall. It’s not quite normal, the foyer’s been shuffled around to make social distancing easier and a full screen’s now less than a quarter of what it once was, but I still feel the familiar rush of anticipation when the lights dip in Screen 2 and this is the closest to normal I’ve felt in months. I leave feeling reassured and keen to return as soon as I can. The world may be falling apart at the seams but the QFT hasn’t changed.
By Jan Carson
This blog was written as part of Film Hub NI's #BackToCinemaNI campaign