In January 2009 I wrote how Regent Theatre owner Allan Webb(QSM) had completed 35 years as sole exhibitor, manager and proprietor of the cinema that month — believed the longest of anyone in the cinema industry in New Zealand.
It also marked 40 years of being a movie exhibitor, including his time as an employee.
Now, in January 2020, that record is well eclipsed as Allan continues to run what I believe must be New Zealand's best provincial cinema.
Allan will have been in business in Te Awamutu for 46 years, served 51 as a movie exhibitor and 59 years altogether in the film industry from when he started as a ticket collector at his local cinema as a teenager, and our Regent Theatre turns 88 on March 12.
In 2003 Te Awamutu Alive presented a Pride of Te Awamutu award to Allan for service to the community — recognising his business is more than just another movie theatre.
In April 2011 Allan was presented with a Service Award from the New Zealand Motion Picture Exhibitors Association and in the 2014 New Years Honours he was awarded a Queen's Service Medal for services to the film industry.
Over the years he undertook extensive alterations of the Regent, which began as a one-screen theatre, and by 2005 had installed five new screens in the complex.
He has always kept up with the latest developments in cinema, sound and picture technology, in order to offer patrons the best possible cinematic experience.
Every year tens of thousands of people attend his cinema, many travelling regularly from neighbouring towns, as well as a surprising number of overseas visitors.
It is a 364 days of the year service to the community — with Allan involved in every aspect from cleaning, film selection, programming, serving and locking up.
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Te Awamutu Courier has endeavoured to document the constant upgrades to the Regent Theatre and to champion the cinema — the envy of any town in New Zealand.
Where most towns the size of Te Awamutu cannot maintain one screen, Allan has given the community five.
He has also made a significant contribution to the film industry in New Zealand through his skills as a film historian, innovator, conservator, and exhibitor.
Programming is a complex task — and people's tastes can be unpredictable — but with all theatres being able to screen all movies Allan is able to mix and match the offerings to
suit the demands.
He says he likes to make sure movies popular with older people are available in the downstairs theatres, and also likes to keep popular movies for longer runs, even in the smaller theatres.
It is this attention to detail that many of his regulars appreciate — and it is fair to say also "gets up the nose" of some patrons who don't "play by his rules".
But Allan is old school — and doesn't compromise.
When his QSM became public he was overwhelmed by the support he received. Familiar, and not so familiar, faces offered congratulations.
Allan says it is reward for his efforts — as one of the letters of support says, many people see the movie industry as a pure money-making exercise, but that is not the case.
It is especially not the case for Allan, who invests so much in the facilities and equipment, as well as collecting and preserving cinema history.
Good movie-making is story-telling, and Allan's story would be worthy of a movie.
I wrote in 2007 at the cinema's 75th birthday 'People spoke before the screenings that day — various speakers, but all with one real message. Movies are magic, and Te Awamutu is lucky.
To celebrate that day Regent Theatre screened the New Zealand premier of Miss Potter.
Five years earlier Te Awamutu hosted the New Zealand premier of one of the year's
biggest films A Beautiful Mind and in 2004 we had the premier of Her Majesty.
For the 60th birthday Te Awamutu had the New Zealand premier of My Girl.
And Allan's passion for theatre extends beyond his own business — he has published numerous volumes on the history of regional cinema and specific theatres which are housed in museums and libraries.
His latest effort, at considerable personal expense, was published last year and marked the completion of years of research into New Zealand cinemas.
That work was the Cinemas of Auckland — The History of Auckland Cinemas, all 53 volumes.
He then had 26 copies of each set made to be boxed up and donated to museums and libraries around the city.
His first research was into the theatres of South Auckland — about 30 years ago.
He then did a two part series on Te Awamutu cinemas, first the Empire and then his own theatre to coincide with the celebration of 100 years of cinema in 1996.
A goal was to fully research and document the over 100 exhibitors that have operated in Auckland — and he believes the finished product is close to 100 per cent — 11 years on from when it was started.
And he wasn't the first to start the project — but he is the one who got it done.
Allan was part of a group which was meeting regularly and they were researching Auckland cinemas and sharing information — back then by fax.
But people left the group or passed away and the information was again in danger of being lost.
Allan dealt the best he could with families to get material, but much also had to be done again.
He was also particular about the sources and accuracy of the information to make sure it was as correct as possible.
About 10 years before the material was published Allan asked local woman Leigh Leslie to assist him, initially editing and indexing the material.
As the scale of the project became evident, he employed Leigh to put the material together into the volumes.
The pair were also double checking all the provided material, plus continuing to research and find new material to add to the books — right up to a week before they were deemed complete.
Much of the documented material was backed up by interviewing people who had been involved in the industry.
"We conducted over 130 interviews," says Allan.
He also credits John Walls of Papatoetoe for making an invaluable contribution.
"John came on board and was responsible for a lot of the research and providing a wealth of information," says Allan.
"He also proofed a great deal of material and identified what he thought was misinformation that needed further checking."
Allan believes the works will be of use to social historians, media studies students and anyone interested in the history of cinema and/or Auckland city.
He considers it his gift to the industry he loves so much and says it is to honour his friend and mentor Colin Greenslade, who died at the end of 2018.
"I have known Colin since the mid-1960s and he gave me valuable advice when I got my first cinema,' says Allan.
"He was providing a lot of valuable material — enough for his own volume.
Allan says he has done enough now — "this is the last one".
"It takes too much time and too much money," he says.
"I have enough to do running The Regent, keeping up with the films and changes in the industry."