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The show must go on

Spielberg’s rescue of Welsh town movie theater hits big screen

‘Save the Cinema’ tells true story of how a social activist kept Lyric Cinema in Carmarthen open by arranging 1993 premier of Jurassic Park, with a little help from the director

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A movie set for release later this month tells the unlikely, yet true, story of how famed movie director Steven Spielberg stepped in to save a small Welsh town’s local cinema by letting it premiere one of his biggest blockbusters, “Jurassic Park.”

“Save the Cinema” is a dramatized version of Liz Evans’s determined campaign to rescue the Lyric Cinema in Carmarthen from being demolished, and keep it operating as part of a program on behalf of local youth.

The mother of three — whose opera-singing sons have walk-on parts in the film — had for years been voluntarily organizing amateur performances by youths for the Carmarthen Further Education Centre. When the derelict cinema was to be demolished, she set her sights on it and persuaded the local council to take it over and rescreen movies as a way to raise funds for the youth performances. She was so successful that the European Union provided funding to upgrade the cinema to have theater facilities too.

Then, in 1993, Jurassic Park’s distributor apparently walked back a promise to let the cinema show the film when it premiered, despite the movie house already advertising the event. Evans, a hairdresser by trade, did not give up.

“My mother was furious,” her son Wynne told the UK Daily Mail newspaper in a Saturday report. “Mum was a bit of a maverick. I thought at the time she was just an eccentric. But she was an inspiring person who didn’t take no for an answer,”

Liz the Lyric, as she became known, got talking with town mayor Richard Goodridge who, with a certain amount of chutzpah, decided to write a letter to none other than Jurassic Park’s director, Spielberg. In “Save the Cinema,” it is Evans who writes the letter.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg poses at the 2019 ‘An Unforgettable Evening’ benefiting the Women’s Cancer Research Fund in Beverly Hills, Calif. on February 28, 2019. (Chris Pizzello/ Invision/ AP)

“Dear Mr. Spielberg,” Goodridge wrote, and went on to explain the circumstances of the cancellation.

“The Lyric Theatre has advertised extensively that the film is to be shown and indeed thousands now believe it will be shown here,” he wrote. “However, many thousands are now going to be disappointed, not least to say, very angry that this has happened.”

“People have postponed their holidays to see it. I am appealing to you to avert a crisis and look forward to an urgent response,” he wrote.

A few days later Spielberg’s office called Goodridge in the middle of the night and a woman told the mayor that the award-winning director would be shown the letter.

Six days after that, the managing director of United International Pictures informed the mayor, “In order not to disappoint the people of Carmarthen, I have given instructions for a print of Jurassic Park to be allocated to the Lyric Cinema.”

The 600-seat cinema was sold out, with seats costing just 2.50 pounds. According to Wynne, his mother was so eager to be first that she began running the reels a few minutes before the official Royal premiere in London, which was attended by Princess Diana.

The cinema has since become the Carmarthen and District Youth Opera, with the patronage of the Duchess of Cornwall.

Evans was later honored by being awarded a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). She died in 2004 at age 60.

Filming of her remarkable story began in January 2021 and “Save the Cinema” is scheduled to premiere on January 14.

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