Silver years dedicated to silver screen

By Rob Mildon


The age of the silver screen is alive and well in Manawatu.

Eric Clarke has channelled a lifelong love of cinema into his own private theatre, packed with movie memorabilia that stretches back decades.

Emigrating from England in 1978, for 30 years he entertained moviegoers in Paraparaumu, passing all donations from his audience on to charity. Now he's brought his passion to Feilding.

"I got an old magic lantern when I was a young boy," he recalls.

"Then I got a film strip projector, and that was the word go. I was bitten."

Now 80, Mr Clarke has a photo of himself at the age of 17, outside the theatre at Peterborough where his cinema career began.

"I pestered the heck out of the projectionist for a job."

It was that projectionist who imbued him with his philosophy. At the Peterborough theatre, there was a small circular window from the projection box to the theatre itself.

"'Look through the porthole,' he said. 'You are contributing to making them happy.' That always stuck with me."

Mr Clarke went on to manage the Imperial Cinema in London in the 1960s. When he came to New Zealand he worked at the Paramount and Penthouse theatres in Wellington.

He plays films for any group who wants to visit his 38-seat cinema. He's been host to audiences from Lions, Probus, the RSA and University of the Third Age. He does not charge for a ticket, instead encouraging donations, all of which he forwards to the St John Ambulance. In 1997 he was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for his contributions to the Wellington ambulance.

Younger audiences come to his theatre too, sometimes in quite moving circumstances.

"I put on a show for a little boy," Mr Clarke remembers.

"He was eight. He had a brain tumour and only had months to live. He wanted to see Harry Potter on the big screen."

It was even possible to track down an original Harry Potter movie poster for him.

The days of celluloid are fondly remembered, but they are past. Mr Clarke has a DVD and a Blu-Ray player for his movies - a VCR is as old-fashioned as he gets. The 35mm projector that his Paraparaumu theatre used now lives in a museum in Napier.

It's not often that someone gets to realise their life's passion as thoroughly as Eric Clarke has.

"You do in life what you want to do. Money's not important. I'm very lucky to be able to do this."

To arrange a screening at the cinema, contact Eric Clarke on (06) 323-4552.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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