Sunlight streams in from the patio onto red, possum fur-lined benches and tightly packed bookshelves, as a couple visiting New Zealand for holiday looks over the list of movies at Dorothy Browns Cinema.
A hidden gem in historic Arrowtown, just 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) outside of downtown Queenstown, the boutique theatre offers its patrons a perfect night out, coaxing chatter amongst strangers with its welcoming, intimate layout and providing an array of wines, cheeses and other snacks to create an overall experience of leisure.
'Tucked Away' at the Cinema
Stashed up a small alley in historic downtown Arrowtown, Browns shows tourists and locals a good time
at the movies
"When you go into the main cinema...you’re tucked away from real life and you walk into another world,” Archibald raved.
Even though the cinema is hidden at the end of a narrow, flowered alley jutting out from the main road, Archibald is always happy to see visitors discover her cinema and see the locals take ownership of it.
“It’s really established itself as a permanent fixture,” she said, with a smirk.
Shattock, an eight-year fixture at the cinema, agrees that the locals have made this more than a business; it’s also a community. She credits their success to their small size and the degree of flexibility and independence that comes with it.
“It’s not like going to the multiplex, grabbing some popcorn and sitting down,” she said. “It’s just a different vibe.”
The cinema’s vibe, like its patrons, also varies by occasion. Browns hold events such as Oscars-viewing parties, French food and film festivals and artist talks for the art gallery next door. Archibald feels she has made the cinema into a unique cultural gem only 21 minutes from Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world.
“What I like personally is that it’s now got a life of its own without me, which is quite nice,” she said. “At first it was just my friends [who came to support me], but now the cinema has just become [an entity by] itself.”
Cinema showtimes can be found online at dorothybrowns.com a few days in advance or moviegoers can subscribe with their email to the weekly newsletter. Movies are usually screened for four weeks at a time or “until people are finished seeing them,” Archibald said.
Dorothy Brown's Bookstore
One month after Dorothy Browns opened its doors to the community, Archibald decided to bring in her friend, Miranda Spary, to fill the three small bookcases in the lobby of the cinema with a variety of books for patrons to purchase.
Now visitors come from all over the world to pick up a stiff, new copy of their latest collection while waiting for a movie to begin. Archibald discloses some people come in just for the books.
A lover of reading with an eye for a riveting story, Spary does all of the choosing for the bookstore, trying to maintain Dorothy Browns’ vision for care and quality in their selections.
“It’s an incredibly good selection of novels even though it is absolutely tiny,” Archibald said. “You can be guaranteed that whatever book you take home is going to be good.”
Owner, Philippa Archibald, founded the theatre in 2001, mostly for her own entertainment, she admitted. A former deer farmer and long-time Arrowtown resident, Archibald explains that 16 years ago, Queenstown didn’t have much to offer besides rafting trips, bars and one mainstream movie theatre. She envisioned Dorothy Browns to be a place that offered the movie experience she desired.
“[People] were a little dubious about it,” she said. “Because they thought it was too small of a town—it won’t work—but it’s worked beautifully actually.”
Archibald has seen her tiny cinema grow and thrive, even as Queenstown has had an influx of people and the movie industry has changed dramatically over the last 16 years, moving from 35-millimeter film to DVDs to digital versions.
With daily showings running from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Dorothy Browns’ two theatres, Archibald takes great care in her selection of thought-provoking, well-shot films with the help of cinema manager, Sam Shattock.
The cinema’s films attract a mixture of locals and tourists who flood the larger, 42-seat theatre adorned with ornate Chinese decor inspired by the old Chinese settlement formerly in Arrowtown. The smaller theatre, aptly named “The Den,” is located in the back of the equally as ornamented lobby area and invites up to 20 guests to make themselves at home in its mixed-and-matched collection of recliners and sofas.