The Art of Projection in Cinema

Tate Modern’s refurbished Starr cinema shows film and so much more… and you can hire it for your own screenings.

Whilst wandering through Tate Modern, having enjoyed a conducted tour of the Louise Bourgeois exhibition (think huge spiders!) and a couple of fascinating audio installations in ‘The Tanks’, I came across the Starr Cinema, and, taking a breather in the comfortable Starr foyer, was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by name by Mariusz Pozierak. He explained that he remembered me from his attendance at one of the BKSTS CTC projection training courses, and kindly invited me to look around Tate Modern’s cinema facilities.

Mariusz has worked in cinema for many years, having been an IMAX projectionist in Warsaw and Krakow before coming to the UK and working in numerous cinemas, including the famous Ritzy in South London. He grew up with film, of course and is one of that rare breed that can still do a slick ‘changeover’ between projectors when needed, and has since learned the completely different skills needed for digital projection. His task as ‘AV Coordinator, Media’ at Tate Modern allows and requires him to make use of all these skills and more.

An up-to-the-minute screening room, the Starr Cinema is Tate Modern’s recently refurbished home for film ­— and I was surprised to discover that it is effectively one of London’s largest, most luxurious screening rooms, offering a wide range of facilities. It seats around 230 people in comfortable surroundings and is fully equipped with 35mm and 16mm projection facilities, digital cinema projection, and, perhaps more remarkably, Dolby Atmos immersive sound.

The twin Ernemann 16/35 film projectors (pictured above) are still used for special events, film festival showings and arts projects, but the bulk of the projection work is now done from a 4K Sony high contrast ratio SRX515 projector using six UHP mercury lamps (pictured above, to the left of the Ernemann projectors), and it is fed with cinema content from a Sony server. This was installed by Sound Associates, which has a long history of maintaining and servicing the equipment at the Starr.

Space to handle film

Behind the scenes, there is an immaculately kept and spacious projection area — there is space for film handling when required, and an adjacent lighting and sound control room provides all the facilities for almost any type of presentation. The cinema hosts a varied programme of events and screenings, both for Tate events and for hirings, and a real strength of the set-up is that the in-house AV team can cope with any technical issues that might arise. They also carry live events from satellite.

An essential part of the gallery

The Starr Cinema is far more than a superb screening room — it is an integral part of the artistic work of Tate Modern. Regular film showings are structured into different cultural strands with topics such as Pioneers, Artists’ Cinema and Counter-Histories – Tate Film’s Cinema Programme brings together works from different traditions of cinematic and artistic practice, exploring, challenging and asserting the place of the moving image within the museum of the 21st century.

In Cinema Technology we often mention ‘the art of projection’ so it was great to see how art and projection can come together in practice, and good to meet a team of projection people who experience a much wider range of artistic material than we normally find in our cinemas.   

Jim Slater