Choose your own film but skip the cleaning up at new private cinema

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For her son Henry’s seventh birthday, Adele Welch took him and 20 of his friends out to see a movie.

“It was mayhem,” she said.

As well as eating icecream, lollies and chips during the screening, the children chatted and laughed, as seven-year-olds are wont to do. But Welch had no fear of the group annoying other patrons in the room.

Adele Welch is waited on by Jack White, the owner of the Henkel Street Cinema.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Instead of going to a shopping centre multiplex, she had rented a cinema in a new private movie house, Henkel Street Cinema.

Patrons hire either a 12-seat or a 22-seat space in this small factory on a Brunswick backstreet.

They bring their own content by logging in to a streaming service, which is then connected to show on a big screen with surround sound.

Staff serve up drinks – including alcohol for adults – and freshly cooked pizzas, arancini and hot chips that the patrons have ordered to their gold class-style seats.

Henry, 7, in the foyer of Henkel Street Cinema where he had his birthday party.Credit: Adele Welch

Welch liked that, instead of having to watch specific films if they were at a cinema complex, here, her son could pick one himself – Ben Stiller’s 2006 comedy Night at the Museum, which his friends loved, too.

“They cacked themselves, they thought it was so funny,” Welch said.

That was in June, and last Thursday, Welch returned with 10 workmates to watch the Oscar-winning fantasy drama Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Some of Welch’s colleagues came from the Mornington Peninsula and Beaufort near Ballarat. Most of them usually work from home so Welch said it was a good way for them to connect outside of work.

Jack White opened Henkel Street Cinema in a factory where he previously ran a burrito restaurant.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Henkel Street Cinema’s founder, manager, usher, cook and cleaner, Jack White, said the cinema, which started in April and opens four days a week until late, has sold out for the past month.

A restaurant White previously ran from here, Brunswick Burrito, failed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A longtime film buff, in his spare time between working at the restaurant, White used to run weekly film screenings for friends in his office upstairs.

On Google, he discovered that it’s a trend in China to hire out 20-seat cinemas in shopping centres. White obtained a permit from Merri-Bek Council to change the Brunswick factory’s use from a restaurant to a cinema.

Henkel Street Cinema patrons book online, paying either $99 for the entire bigger cinema or $79 for the smaller one.

White says it’s “a bridge between sitting at home and streaming on your TV and seeing films in a cinema”.

“So you can watch [US TV drama series] The Bear on a bigger screen with better sound and [with] that cinematic environment.

“And there’s no cleaning up after your friends.”

White says about 50 per cent of hires have been for birthday parties; other patrons have included film buffs watching Michael Mann’s Heat to Straw Dogs and Coneheads.

“Someone booked a cinema to show a football game,” he says. “One filmmaker booked a cinema for a day to screen her own films.”

White, who once studied film, says: “I would have loved to have had a place I could rent out for under $100 and get all my friends along to watch a short film that I made.”

White, who is juggling his cinema alongside The Brulee Cart, serving creme brulee at events, is thinking of starting a weekly film society to play cult films such as Napoleon Dynamite and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for which people would pay $50 annual memberships.

He says the feedback from customers of the private cinema has been positive so far.

“They love it. They like that they can pause their film, have a chat through the film, and play whatever they like. They find the place quite quirky.”

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