In 2012 the Film Rep for Orkney Arts Forum, Mark Jenkins, was tasked with looking into developing a film festival for Orkney. General feedback didn’t reveal much enthusiasm for a festival, but it did show a gap in the range of films on offer in the county. Attention was moved to thoughts of developing a permanent community cinema instead. Stromness Town Hall, a converted church, had recently undergone a major refurbishment and so was judged to be the perfect venue. An enthusiastic committee set up under the name of West Side Cinema (a reference to West Side Story) with the constitutional aims of enabling and encouraging access to a broad range of film experience in Orkney on a not for profit basis.


The committee wanted to create a space not only for viewing but also for conversation, something that’s often difficult to do under a traditional cinema set up. Instead they created cabaret style table seating to give a more intimate environment. Having tables supported the ‘bring your own’ policy and food and drink is often shared between audience members. They also create the perfect ‘canvas’ for dressing in theme to the film.

One of our very early screenings of ‘Ping Pong’ gave the idea for the ‘Ping-Pongometer’. The audience are invited to put a ping-pong ball into one of five baskets marked 1 – 5. Choosing a basket often results in further discussion but importantly, with around 90% of the audience voting, it gives an instant impression of how particular screenings have been received.


When programming we try to offer alternative content to the Phoenix Cinema, the Phoenix Fringe (both 17 miles away), the Screen in the Square (30 miles away) and the Gable End Theatre in Hoy (another island). Screenings are fortnightly apart from monthly in June, July and August when other events and festivals in Orkney make it a particularly busy time. Themed short films are shown with every feature film and are extremely popular, while themed music supports the presentation. We always look for opportunities to add special events and to collaborate with local festivals and businesses, while workshops and Q & A’s have become part of our identity. Later years saw us grow into running Orkney-wide film festivals, touring community cinema initiatives and developing community cinemas in other areas of Orkney.

We’ve have been fortunate over the years to attract top talent to join us for our film screenings, giving introductions, Q & A’s and workshops.

To date we’ve welcomed –

Directors & Producers: John Maclean (Slow West), Ian Sellar (Venus Peter), Martin Radich (Norfolk), Chris Nikkel (Romance of the Far Fur Country), Chris Riley (Moonwalk One: Directors Cut)

Short Filmmakers: Elizabeth Hobbs, Finlay Pretsell, Ewan Stewart, Callum Rice, The Singh Twins, Raymond Besant, Colin Kirkpatrick, Mark Jenkins.

Authors: Rachel Seiffert, Gavin Francis, Pippa Goldschmidt, Yvonne Gray, Tom Muir, David W Earl.

Actors: Bill Murray (Isle Of Dogs), Gerda Stephenson (Blue, Black Permanent).

Musicians: Jason Singh, R.M. Hubbard (Hubby), The Driftwood Cowboys, James Watson, Hotscotch, Dave Linklater, Orkney Camerata.

From quite humble beginnings West Side Cinema has grown into an important part of Orkney’s film landscape, something we hope we’ll be able to offer for many years to come.

West Side Cinema is a charity registered in Scotland, Charity Number SC046126.

You can download our constitution here:

%d bloggers like this: