Off the neat town square in Capelas is a slightly ramshackle, rain-soaked building, hidden just behind the tiny police station. You could easily miss it, but it would be a shame if you did, because this is the local cinema. Teatro-Açor has been closed for many years now, but the wrought-iron sign still gives off a hint of old-world elegance, a scent of another age, when smart phones and Netflix did not exist, when even televisions were a rarity, and local people would gather together to watch a film as a social occasion. If you manage to get in touch with the owner, and you are polite enough to be offered a tour, you will be greeted by some astonishing memorabilia: a tank-like rusting projector, pictures of Elizabeth Taylor and Humphrey Bogart, and even a surprisingly recent Men in Black 2 poster. The space looks unloved now, it’s true, with time and the famous Azorean humidity doing its job of eating away at paint, wood and metal, but it’s a space which teems with spirit. It’s the soul of the cinema and the ghosts of the people who enjoyed so many good films there which director Claudio Hoffman and performer Carlota Blanc felt so strongly when they first visited. They’ve now embarked upon a difficult but wonderful dream of restoring the cinema for the town and the whole of the island and I caught up with them just before the premiere of their masked theatre performance.
Interviewer: Please tell me your names, what you do and where you live?
Claudio: I’m Claudio Hochman, author, director and teacher.
Carlota: I’m Carlota Blanc, designer, performer and cultural agent. We live between Lisbon and Fenais de Luz, in São Miguel.
Interviewer: I know you have fallen in love with Capelas cinema and are doing what you can to restore it. Could describe for me the first time you came to the cinema? What was the impression that you had?
C and C: We always wanted to come and live in the Azores. It was two summers ago, when we were staying in Nordeste, that we started to really dream about this. How could we make our dream come true? We thought of several ideas. Then when we arrived in Capelas and saw the cinema, greeting us like a ghost eager to come back to life. We asked the neighbours and the answer was always the same, the Cine-Teatro Açor has been closed for many years. We found the owner’s phone number and that same afternoon she opened the doors of the past to us. We were so moved during that visit, seeing the old projection machine, the film tapes, the posters of the movie stars of that time. We imagined how the cinema must have been full of people, and how it could be again. Fernanda Melo, the granddaughter of the founder, told us some stories of her grandfather and we told her about our dream to start a project here. Thus began our adventure.
Interviewer: A practical question – is the cinema the most Westerly art house cinema in Europe?
C and C: We don’t know. What we do know is that on the North Coast of Ponta Delgada it is the only one.
Interviewer: And how did you begin the restoration of the cinema?
C and C: We have not started yet. We’re looking for funds. It’s not easy because the space is private but we didn’t give up. In any case, we do not stop at just restoring the building. Theatre is made by the people and for the people, regardless of spaces. That’s why we’ve been programming activities to create and audience and train the community in the performing arts. We held an open theatre class in which more than 45 people participated, a community mural with the collaboration of the Uruguayan Rocia Matosas, which is on the wall of Capelas Football Field and now we are preparing to premiere our show ‘Music, masks and movement’, where people who responded to an open call and some young people from Criações Inclusivas came together to work on the show. We have also received support from Arquipel.eu to make a documentary about the past, present and future of Cine-Teatro Açor, which will be premiered in March 2023. As you can see, we are not waiting for the building to be ready to start doing things.
Interviewer: What have been the biggest difficulties?
C and C: For us it has been to install in the community the custom of participation in artistic activities. So far, we’ve had a very good response, but it’s constant challenge. We are also adapting our project every day as we learn about the reality of the population. We don’t want to do a project from the outside in, but rather work from what we discover.
Interviewer: And what have been the best and most memorable moments?
C and C: All of them! When we entered the Cine-Teatro for the first time and saw the cans of tapes, the projector, the posters of Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor. When more than 45 people showed up to do an open theatre class. When kids and adults created the town mural. When we saw so many people creating their own masks. And when an email arrives saying that we have received new support!
Interviewer: What are your motivations in restoring the cinema? What are your dreams for the cinema?
C and C: We want to transform it into a space ‘by and for’ the community. We want to be able to have an experimental and popular theatre company in Capelas. We want to give the inhabitants of the North Coast of São Miguel access to artistic training and quality shows which they all can enjoy.
Interviewer: My project explores the old and new sides of the Azores. Please could you say something about your experience of the old and new sides here on the island.
C and C: In the show we are doing, we are using traditional Azorean songs with contemporary choreography. This is an example of our ideology. We take inspiration from history but bring it into our own time. Regarding Cine-Teatro, we want to maintain its original aesthetic, but giving it the functionality and comfort which we can achieve today.
Interviewer: What are your hopes for the future of São Miguel and the archipelago?
C and C: We want it to keep its nature. It’s a wonderful place and we deeply want it to stay that way. We also want people in this outermost paradise to have access to cultural activities.
Interviewer: Anything else that you want to say?
C and C: We want to welcome everyone. The doors are open for everyone that wants in any way to participate in this project.