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Regent Cinema owner David Favel (left) was helping cinema researchers Sebastian Hurrell and Brittany Cook with their book project.

Ashburton’s Regent Cinema was on a research stop for an Auckland couple hunting down stories of small, independent movie theatres.

Television cameraman Sebastian Hurrell and his partner Brittany Cook have been touring the South Island for the past three weeks soaking up stories about small cinemas and how they have reinvented themselves over the years.

Sebastian eventually hopes to publish a book.

The pair, and dog Ziggy, dropped in to see Donna and David Favel, who operate the two-screen Regent Cinema in Ashburton. They bought the business in 1998 when movies were held at the Regent Theatre next door; the theatre was demolished to make way for the Ashburton Trust Event Centre and the Favels built a new cinema complex next door.

Sebastian said they were talking to small and boutique cinema owners about how they competed with the big multi-plex cinemas in cities and how they were doing in the covid environment.

He said he grew up watching movies projected onto a sheet strung up for the purpose; neighbours crowded around.

The couple have visited at least 15 small cinemas on their trip so far and are heading back to Auckland. “Everyone has been excited to be a part of it. Everyone is struggling but there is a sense of unity.”

He said cinemas had reinvented themselves many times over the decades, from the introduction of talking films to the digital age. “Cinemas have always made a comeback.”

Going to the movies was about sharing the experience with other people, rather than Netflixing at home on your own, he said.

David Favel said independence meant they could choose movies that suited their communities. Ashburton movie-goers had diverse appetites and he selects movies that appeal to those aged from three years to 93.

School holidays are traditionally his busiest times, when it is not uncommon for seniors to be visiting with their grandchildren.

He said there were plenty of unique small cinemas in the South Island, including a cinema/aquarium in Picton.