Vintage Australian cinemas face different futures


Here’s a tale of two Grand Old Cinemas: the 1929 State Theatre in Sydney and the Astor Theatre in Melbourne, which opened seven years later in 1936, face differing futures. The State has elements of Gothic, Italian and Art Deco architecture, while The Astor is more Art Deco in style.

The State is now used mainly for concerts and live performances. However, it was built as a cinema and is host to the Sydney Film Festival every June and major film premieres. The owners of The State have just announced major funding to increase the size of the stage and backstage area. This will allow the 2,000-seat theatre to house larger stage productions, but not most Broadway shows. The stage is still too small for this because of its original design as a cinema. A wonderful Wurlitzer organ, which is often played during the film festival, is also to be restored as part of this work. It all means that The State will remain part of Sydney's theatre scene for many years to come.

Not so certain is the future of The Astor, one of the last single-screen cinemas in Australia. It was sold in 2007 after the manager declared that such a single screen was no longer viable in a multiplex market. The cinema was purchased for A$3.8 million by a close neighbor, St. Michael’s School, and the school granted a lease for the building to continue to operate as a repertory cinema until 2015. The school uses it for assemblies each week.

Friends of The Astor now fear that the school will not renew the lease in 2015 and have organized a petition to help save the theatre. "We fear The Astor is under threat," the petition states, calling on the school to "relinquish the site and let The Astor Theatre continue.” The Friends of the Astor Association had a day of action at the Astor on Saturday, June 16, with a free screening of Labyrinth plus free popcorn. The petition quickly gained 10,000 signatures in five days and continues to grow. For more information, go to the petition at or the Facebook page Astor.

Opening the Melbourne Film Festival this year is the new Australian film The Sapphires, a musical drama based on real events during the Vietnam War. Four young Aboriginal singers entertained the troops during the war singing Supremes-style songs. The Sapphires started as a successful Australian stage production before being filmed. This feel-good movie screened in Cannes with sales already to Entertainment One for the U.K. and Ireland, Diaphana for France, as well as sales to Israel and Portugal. Hopscotch has it for Australia and New Zealand. Harvey Weinstein picked up most of the unsold territories at Cannes and was very effusive in his praise of the film. The Sapphires opens around Australia on August 9 with overseas seasons to follow.

Contact David Pearce at