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How POP Flix is Bringing Cinema Back to Sunderland City Centre

POP Flix is Bringing Cinema Back to Sunderland City Centre
May 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

Cinema is back and better than ever in Sunderland

A community cinema is on a mission to bring movies back to Sunderland city centre. Living North discovers more.

After the closure of Empire Cinema in Sunderland (the city’s last central cinema), Tony Scott and the team at POP Recs had a vision for how to bring film back for the community: POP Flix Community Cinema. 

It started with a Christmas miracle (sort of). Last year, Empire Cinema in Sunderland closed its doors for the final time, leaving Sunderland city centre without a big screen. Fast forward to winter, and Tony Scott of POP Recs (a community music and arts hub on Sunderland’s High Street West) was struck with an idea. ‘I was chatting to one of the sound engineers and I said wouldn’t it be great if we put films on here,’ he explains. ‘In the run up to Christmas. I ended up doing it off of my own back, and we showed It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf.’ 

But Tony didn’t just stop at a screening. ‘For It’s a Wonderful Life, we got a local band called YUMA to come and do an acoustic set before the screening,’ he says. ‘It was magical. That’s the only way I can describe it. They did an acoustic cover set including a few Christmas tunes on top of the stuff they normally do and it was fantastic. It was just a really nice atmosphere because it’s not like your conventional cinema.’ 

Tony Scott and Justine Merton-Scott
This Little Bird. High Fidelity screening

The team have worked to keep the ball rolling since then. ‘There’s a little group of us now that have got together and set ourselves up more formally. We’re a not-for-profit community interest group, it’s effectively volunteer run and any money that we make goes back into helping to support POP Recs. We’ve managed to build up a little following on social media and we’ve put on a few more films since then – and we’re going to continue to do so.’ 

For the team, POP Flix is about a lot more than showing films, it’s a way to bring people together in celebration, and that means pulling out all of the stops like they did for their showing of the smash hit blockbuster Barbie. ‘We put on Barbie and we claimed the Sunderland City premiere of the movie because we didn’t have a cinema when it was released,’ says Tony. ‘We set up a photo booth and we had a local DJ come in and do a DJ set before the film, throwing out some absolutely banging tunes and then put on the film – and again it was just lots of fun!

‘POP Flix is about a lot more than showing films, it’s a way to bring people together in celebration, and that means pulling out all of the stops’

‘We put on some family films as well like WALL-E. We put yoga mats down so the kids had an area and we gave out colouring pencils and colouring sheets. So we do try to create a very welcoming space for families as well. I remember when my daughter was young, taking her to the cinema was a nightmare because they just want to get up all the time to wander around and they can do that at POP Recs in the way that we’ve got it set up. We also did a Valentine’s night and had High Fidelity on and again we had local artist, This Little Bird, and and she did an original acoustic set before the film. We’re trying to mix it up a little bit and do things a little bit differently.’

The team are also passionate about highlighting the incredible cinema that comes from the North. ‘We’re putting on Tish which is a documentary about Tish Murtha, the social photographer from the North East, and we’ve got The Old Oak, another local film. Some of the cast from that are going to do a Q&A session for it as well so that should be good. That went mental. We put the tickets out and it sold out within 24 hours.’ 

With the ongoing success of POP Flix, Tony certainly feels optimistic about the future, and about cinema in the North. ‘I think in terms of filmmakers, there’s a lot of talent. The fact that Ken Loach’s latest film was set in the heart of Durham and used the local community as his cast. Also, that deal has just been signed for the film studio down on the Wear and I think that’s great, not just for Sunderland, but for the region as a whole because it’s going to put North East locations on the map. For me, the North East is just an astounding place and I’m quite buoyed up by that.’ 

For tickets, visit 

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