Step back in time for ‘reel’
Yamba Cinema is not just a popular venue to see the latest movie in an idyllic Northern Rivers town. It is not just a hub that offers a place for essential connection and community. And it is not just a place to enjoy a supreme choc-top. It is also a symbol of Australian cinema history.
For owner Debbie McGredie, movies and cinema are practically a part of her DNA.
“The Yamba Cinema was purpose-built by my parents at its current location 42 years ago, in 1980,” says Debbie, who bought the business for herself in 2004, having worked there her whole life prior. “Before 1980, they operated the cinema from another building further down the street.
“I spent my first night out of hospital when I was born, sleeping under a projector.”
She also remembers accompanying her father, himself a projectionist from the age of 12, as he travelled around regional NSW showing movies as part of a tour. The Yamba Cinema family extends back generations, and it is an ethos born of this history that informs the way Debbie runs the business today.
“Our mission has always been to provide affordable entertainment to both our local community and visitors alike,” she says. “We achieve this by keeping our prices down to be among the cheapest cinemas in the country. We aim to bring back the movie-going days of old, and by keeping prices low we can encourage families to come to the cinema together for family outings.”
Yamba Cinema, one of the nation’s few remaining 100 per cent independently-owned cinemas, has been affected by the triple whammy of disasters in recent years: floods, fires and pandemic. The cinema building suffered damage during the February 2022 floods; the Black Summer fires of 2019 and 2020 meant that tourism, a major source of the cinema’s business, came to a shuddering halt halfway through the season; and, of course, COVID lockdowns meant cinemas had to close their doors. Added to this the pandemic shut down film production across the world for a while, so the cinemas had few movie options to show.
But the upside of facing all these hardships, is that the true worth of a place like Yamba Cinema is revealed.
“Isolation has had a huge effect on some demographics, and just having a patron who lives on their own come and tell me how they appreciate that we are open again, as going to the movies is their only outing or people contact they have, is a landmark moment for me,” says Debbie. “Seeing a little girl walk in to the foyer in her Elsa dress, or having an excited little boy bring his own Buzz Lightyear to watch Toy Story, makes all the multiple challenges worthwhile.”
The pandemic was also a catalyst for carrying out a few upgrades: the cinema has installed new seats, some of which are now sold as “lounge class”, which offers a range of special food and drink options. Debbie is also committed to having the latest projection and sound systems in place.
“Our plan is to keep up to date with all advancements in technology so we can make the trip to the movies a real experience. We have seen generations pass through our cinema and we plan to bring the magic of the movies to generations still to come.”
Yamba Cinema participates in the wider cinematic life of the nation by hosting film festivals, as well as screening special-interest films and those made by local filmmakers. It also holds morning teas, fundraisers and many other community events.
Employing two full-time staff as well as six casuals, Yamba Cinema is a small business with a big reach and an exciting future as Yamba becomes an ever-more popular town for both tourists and sea-changers alike.
Just one all-important question remains, though. Which films have been the toast of Yamba in recent times?
“In recent months our top movie has definitely been Top Gun: Maverick,” says Debbie. “Not only was it an amazing movie, it also helped get our customers back into the cinema and away from their home TV. It showed us what watching a movie in a cinema was all about. It was a movie that had to be seen on a huge screen with superb surround sound, and experienced in a room with other people.
“It brought back those special feelings of being younger and watching the original Top Gun at the cinema over 35 years ago. After watching Top Gun: Maverick, you left the cinema feeling like you had just experienced something amazing – and that’s the magic of the movies.”