AS the public starts to familiarise itself with the new Palace Electric Cinema in NewActon, Stephanie Zeccola is keenly watching the fledgling audiences coming in the door.In Canberra for a few days from Melbourne, she is one of the four children of Antonio Zeccola, the founder and Executive Chairman of the Palace Cinemas chain, and although armed with a PR degree from RMIT, she claims the university of life as her alma mater.
The self-styled “baby” of the well-known cinema family, she shares responsibilities with Antony, who runs operations in Sydney, Benjamin, who became chief executive on the opening day of Canberra operations and Elysia, the director of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
There’s a chic NewActon urbanity about the disguised candy bar-box office and Prosecco bar, where I find Zeccola and the Palace Electric publicist, Sarah Malone, clutching consoling glasses of bubbly – Brown Bros have been good to the family, and the Prosecco adds a touch of culture and prosperity.
One of the things that all the Zeccolas are exceedingly proud of is their independence. In the first week of Palace Electric Cinema – “that’s a friendly nod to the old Electric Shadows,” Zeccola and Malone chorus – there are two releases unique to their cinemas – “Monsieur Lazhar” and “Paris Manhattan.”
“And ‘Django Unchained’ is the first movie to be shown to the public,” Malone enthuses – you can hardly can accuse them of conservatism.
Right now, with eight cinemas to fill, they’re thinking broadly. Initially, there are the film festivals, the Italian one opening on February 5, the French on March 7 and the Spanish and Israeli festivals to follow.
That makes it looks like a full calendar, but they are not averse to the idea of conventions, fashion shows, Q&As and other chic events. After all, as Malone says, “this a good place to make an impression.” With capacious stages and access to coffee and drinks, it ought to be easy. The largest cinema seats 193 people, the smallest 63 with an average of 70 to 90 person capacity.
They are well aware of the buzz around town over potential rivalry from older cinemas. But Malone notes that Greater Union welcomed them to town – “that was lovely.”
Both Malone and Zeccola strongly reject the idea that Palace is a more expensive experience, saying that while the trendy audiences might be in the 20-40 age group, more elderly cinemagoers have been inquiring too. With eligibility for discounts via the Palace Movie Club or Golden Movie Club (for over 60s) or the Student Club and $7 tickets for Seniors on Monday – Friday before noon, it is reasonable.
Curiosity impels me to ask what it’s like to have been watching movies from around the age of seven?
Well, to Zeccola it’s normal but she remembers when, at age 12 or 13, she attended the film “Zentropa,” a hallucinatory Danish cult film set in post-war Germany.
“It was disturbing, it was eye opening, but I didn’t even blink.” But the next day back at her nice girls’ school in Toorak, she found that avant-garde filmgoing was not the order of the day. “I don’t think the girls would have understood what I watched… it was difficult for me, I’d been exposed to art films for a long time.”
Later Zeccola switched to a photography studies college which was more simpatico, so in all ways there was a happy ending.
Growing up in the cinema has, to Stephanie Zeccola, “been a huge inspiration…we were always in cinema, we were lucky, we worked hard and hopefully we’ll meet this new challenge…I think it comes down to passion with responsibility.”
Palace Electric Cinema, NishiBuilding, NewActon. Bookings and information to or www.palacecinemas.com.au or tickets at the box office.