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Thurso cinema is becoming a blockbuster Caithness business

Caithness Courier

Almost 100,000 tickets have been sold since Thurso Cinema first raised the curtains on its silver screens in July 2012.

Since then it has grown from strength to strentgh to become one of the big success stories of the Caithness economy.

Over the past year, its operators have converted from 35mm film to digital, introduced live performances and opened a new bar and restaurant.

Animated family films proved to be the biggest selling movies, with Despicable Me 2 3D the most popular at Thurso during 2013, and cartoons taking the top four places.

Owner Rob Arthur said the beginning of 2013 was affected by technical issues as it converted to digital, but overall judged the last 12 months to be a mixed year.

"The first quarter was impacted by the lack of 35mm film available to book as over 90 per cent of the UK market had changed over to digital and I was trying to find prints to screen," he said.

"The second quarter saw the introduction of Sony Digital Cinema and The Croods 3D which did extremely well in Caithness.

"This also enabled the cinema to introduce live satellite events for the first time.

"Summer started off really well with Despicable Me 2 3D which was the number one film in Thurso for the year. Monsters University 3D also did extremely well, however other films and film-going in general was impacted by the unusually hot summer."

Mr Arthur added: "The latter part of the year has been really good, with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and Frozen all performing really well.

"The cinema did better than the market average later in the year nad my view is that the opening of the bar and restaurant really helped to make the cinema more of a destination and a place to host events."

Half of the total tickets sold during 2013 was for 3D moview with live events selling over 1000 tickets a month for theatre performances and special productions.

The Nutcracker, Dr Who: Day of the Doctor 3D and Andre Rieu: Home for Christmas Live all sold out, with Othello and The Audience also proving popular.

Mr Arthur is looking at a way to satellite link both screens for special events to expand the number of seats available as they are proving to be so popular, with War Horse, due to be shown in late February, already sold out.

"Our Event Cinema business has brought in audiences who didn't go to the cinema previously and were unsure of it or thought it was for the teens," he said.

"The National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company, English National Opera, The British Museum and Andre Rieu have enabled us to broaden the cinema audience and those same people come back to watch films such as Sunshine on Leith, Philomena, Gravity and The Railway Man.

"It is changing the way we look at the cinema, as we are catering for Kids' Club, family audiences, blockbusters, independent film, event cinema and now late night horrors."

Mr Arthur is developing plans to open a cinema in Fort William and three other locations in Scotland, with Caithness to act as the centre of operations.

In 2014, he said he plans to consolidate the cinema operation and develop the bar and restaurant by improving menus and offering music and quiz nights and introducing premier events for local film screens but said it will not be done before 2015.

"If I was to sum up the year at the cinema it would be a year of significant change - the lobby space remodel, digital, 3D, satellite links and live events and the opening of the bar and restaurant - while generating steady, if not spectacular, levels of business.

"If you consider what's been achieved at the cinema since re-opening and that every single staff member running the business day to day is from Caithness, that is something for the area to be proud of."