The Genesis – Stepney’s Independent Cinema

Today people are increasingly pushing against the bland offerings from the big retail brands, particularly in the area of entertainment. Alongside the ‘pop up’ restaurants and alternative theatre spaces are the independent cinemas – Picture House have opened a new venue in London within the last year for example.

One of the first to get in on the act was the Genesis Cinema in Stepney. The site of a theatre in the nineteenth century, the current building started its life as an Empire movie house in 1939 before coming under the ABC brand and eventually ending its life as a Coronet. After falling sales the cinema finally closed its doors, laying derelict for ten years, and this is where its current story starts.

During the last recession, a local East End roofing company owned by the Walker-Hebborn family decided that they needed to diversify their business portfolio. One of the sons in the family firm, Tyrone (named by his parents for classic movie star Tyrone Power – his brother is named for Spencer Tracey) came up with the idea that a piece of land which they owned in Bow would be an excellent site for a new cinema.

After many false starts a local councillor suggested that as an alternative they might want to take a look at the abandoned old building on the main road near Stepney Green tube station. Grasping this opportunity with both hands, cinema buff Tyrone led an extensive rebuilding and refurbishment programme which saw the Genesis opening for business in May 1999. Thirteen years on, he’s still absolutely passionate about film as this quote shows:

“An acre of seats in a garden of dreams’. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that magic?”

It’s definitely worth checking out the Genesis if you’re a cinephile because as well as main-stream blockbusters they offer an eclectic mix of limited distribution movies too. They also hold regular small-scale movie festivals – August and September featured the relaunch of their ‘Auternative’ programme which is a series of films selected by well-known actors, directors, cinematographers and composers, and in October they are hosting a London/Shanghai film festival. The public spaces in the building are also used as galleries – the work of an intriguing local artist and photographer is currently on display in the screen lobby.

In terms of the facilities, the Genesis offers a huge main screen which boasts many original art deco features (although thankfully the chairs are modern additions) with three smaller screens on the floor below. Tucked around the back of the building is a newly-refurbished space, ‘Studio 5′. This screen has a chic boudouir-like feel with deep sofas and rich purple velvet curtains where the best in alternative and world cinema is shown, and where they also offer succulent snacks and fine wines. Also new is the street-facing café which is open all day – offering just about the only decent cup of coffee on this stretch of the main road into the City, they serve ‘Nude Coffee’ which is roasted just around the corner on Brick Lane.

If you need any more convincing, you should also note that their prices are considerably cheaper than the West End – a ticket for a screening of Dredd tonight will set you back only £5.50.

Fun fact – Tyrone named his venture the Genesis because it represents the rebirth of the cinema, but also as an homage to a certain science fiction film which remains one of his favourites. Here’s a quote from the film that might help you to guess which movie from the 1980s helped to inspire the cinema’s name:

“He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

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About The Londoneer

Pete Stean is a keen blogger, amateur photographer, singer and ham radio enthusiast in his spare time...