secret cinema x bring the berlin rave scene to south london for victoria premiere
For one night only, the immersive cinema company transform London's iconic Ministry of Sound venue into a Berlin rave to stage an advance screening of single-take out-all-night thriller Victoria.
At a time when anyone with a Netflix subscription has instant access to thousands of films, Secret Cinema is making us remember the true magic of the movies. More than 420,000 people have attended one of their super-immersive film experiences, which range from 2014's five-week run of nostalgia-packed Back to the Future screenings to the more intimate, one-off events created by the company's cult strand, Secret Cinema X.
On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to attend Secret Cinema X's latest event, a bespoke mix of film, theatre and performance art. The day before, I receive an email telling me I'm on the guest list for something called 'Club Schwester' with a designated meeting point on Newington Causeway in London's Elephant and Castle. "The night starts at 6.45pm. Arrive at 6.30pm. DJs will play until the early hours of Sunday morning. Strictly no latecomers," the email specifies, advising me to "come dressed to dance". I have very little idea what to expect, but I know it won't be a singalong screening of Frozen.
As the bank holiday rain lashes down over south east London, my friend and I arrive at the designated meeting point with our dancing shoes soaked through and our faces looking sulky. Along with perhaps a couple of hundred other damp film fans, we are ushered round the corner to what appears to be a nightclub queue. It's obviously kind of surreal to be waiting outside a nightclub at 7pm, especially when you're sober as a rehab counsellor and a group of guys in flashy sportswear are pacing up and down the queue behaving a little aggressively, spitting out beer and shouting excitedly in German accents. "Where are you from?" one asks me. "London? Aha! So you've come to Berlin to party…".
Our wrists stamped, we shuffle into the club and my friend realises we're actually at London dance landmark Ministry of Sound, which has been given a Germanic makeover for the occasion. The sound system pumps out minimal techno music while smoke billows over the dance floor and more kids in trendy sportswear show off their moves. We grab a drink and observe a little nervously from the sidelines, hoping no one us wants us to dance too. Then we spot some kind of commotion on the balcony that overlooks the dance floor. A good-looking guy in a sick biker jacket tells everyone to head next door because the party in this room is over. We follow his lead and enter another room which has been transformed into a temporary cinema with rows of black padded seats and a large projector screen hanging over the bar. The music keeps pumping hypnotically until the film begins. It's an advance screening of Victoria -- the indie German drama that was shot in a single, continuous take -- a week ahead of its UK cinema release on 1 April. The film seems to begin as a celebration of the Berlin club scene before transforming into something much darker and heart-stoppingly intense.
As I watch, I realise the characters in the film are dressed in the same outfits as the guys outside the nightclub and the kids on the dance floor. Without giving any of Victoria's plot away, they're behaving in a similar way too: one minute high and excitable, the next tense and edgy. Shortly after the film ends, the same kids greet us on the dance floor and goad us all into dancing. One even tells me to slap him playfully on the ass: why not, I figure, 'when in Berlin…'. What was initially a fun but confusing evening now makes a lot of sense. Thanks to imaginative staging and impressive attention to detail, Secret Cinema X has made a brilliant film feel even more vivid and alive.
Text Nick Levine
Photography courtesy Secret Cinema