People & Places

Why Wellington’s Embassy theatre is such a special building

Article by Home Magazine

Chair of the New Zealand International Film Festival, Blueskin Films founder and film producer, Catherine Fitzgerald ONZM has had many memorable experiences at Wellington’s Embassy theatre

Why Wellington’s Embassy theatre is such a special building

I grew up in Dunedin and my first visit to the Embassy was 10 years before I moved to Wellington. It was for the opening night of the Film Festival in 1985, the year the Embassy became the festival’s Wellington home.

I remember it as a magnificent place to see a film, even if the building, inside and out – like all the grand picture houses in 1980s New Zealand – was a bit neglected and tired. Nevertheless, the renovations of the 1960s had left the downstairs an empty shell (now a great pair of smaller cinemas and a classy bar), which did service as a great orchestra pit with superb acoustics for the much-appreciated live cinema events. Back then, the sought-after row A had the added bonus of the radiators, which proved great foot warmers for marathon film viewing.

Designed by Llewellyn Williams and purpose-built as a cinema in 1924, it has undergone various remodels, but always remained a cinema. The Embassy Theatre Trust ensured that in the early 2000s it was ready for the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and in the ownership of Wellington City. The City’s vision to own, upgrade and maintain this building is indicative of why I love Wellington.

While I adore the lavish exoticism of the Civic in Auckland, the baroque grandeur of the Regent in Dunedin and the Edwardian splendour of the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch, the graceful art deco of the Embassy sings restrained elegance, and today is a glorious place to watch a film: a huge screen, technically fine projection, comfortable seating, and a sense of intimacy, despite the size of the room.

I trust the Embassy will remain the home for the NZ International Film Festival in Wellington and the venue for many memorable films and events. I look forward to celebrating the 50th Film Festival there in 2020 ahead of the building’s 100th birthday on 31 October 2024.

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