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Edition One Feature
  • Edition One A Drink With... Barry Peak
  • Author Joshua Elias
  • Photographer James Morgan
  • Location Saint Crispin, Collingwood, Melbourne

Over dinner and drinks we spoke to cinema owner, Barry Peak, about David Lynch relieving himself, strangers on public transport and his time at film festivals...

“I’m a guy who spent his childhood in movie theatres; I’ve loved movies forever.” 

Apparently David Lynch is famous for relieving himself on the nearest tree during a film shoot and Terry Gilliam is indeed as eccentric as his movies. A life spent distributing, marketing and screening films has provided Barry Peak, co-owner of Australia’s largest cinema chain, with a litany of rich experiences and knowledge. With an education in marketing, Peak’s skillset has proved valuable in luring culturally enthused patrons to view ‘arthouse’ films for many years. His first commercial venture began in the late ‘70s at the Valhalla Cinema in Richmond. A pioneer of 24-hour movie marathons in Australia, the Valhalla Cinema was also immensely popular for its audience participation, namely sing-alongs that took place during screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Blues Brothers. Over time, the Valhalla was relocated and sold, the proceeds of which funded Peak’s current project—Cinema Nova. 

Our dinner with Peak takes place at a new Melbourne restaurant called Saint Crispin, located in the junky-prone/hipster locale of Smith Street, Collingwood. We have just completed our main course and two bottles of wine and we pre-empt desserts with giddy laughter. The conversation has centred on wine and movies with the occasional cultural digression, the most recent of which involved a story from Peak’s past. The subject of this tale was an American women suffering from social dissociation, Peak recalls the event intently: “I bought a monthly pass for Greyhound buses in New York City. On one particular day, a lady sat next to me. She was talking to me as though I was her closest friend but at the same time, someone she had never met before. The conversation was something like this: ‘You are wearing a nice sweater … oh and last night my boyfriend fucked me so hard that I had to break up with him and then his best friend shot him.’ It was so strange, the conversation started normally and then before I knew it, she was trying to unload something on to me; something that should’ve been told to the police!” 

“Wine scores are just stupid because everything is between eighty-five and one hundred, why not use zero to fifty or fifty to one hundred? If you are going to have a scale, why not use it properly?”

As the owner of an independent cinema house, Peak is responsible for acquiring showing rights from movie distributors or alternatively, buying the rights to distribute the movie directly in his cinemas. In order to make such business decisions, Peak watches a high number of films. In September this year, he will travel to San Sebastián Film Festival, where he will watch around 60 films. Despite his immersion in the process, his enjoyment of cinema has never been compromised. “When I go into a theatre, I still have the same potential for naïve enjoyment as when I was eight years old. I don’t need to make notes and analyse the film; I’m not a critic. After I watch the film I make my decision and that is a pretty clear-cut process. I think about whom the movie would appeal to, whether I want to play it and how to pitch it. All of that is pretty easy.” That is not to say that Peak’s critical eye doesn’t sometimes intrude. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Peak was involved in the ‘writing and directing’ side of film production. He concedes that his experience in film production sometimes changes his perception of a film. “It only comes to the fore when films are really bad. There is a point in a film when you are watching the actors and you are not watching the characters. That usually happens in films where they are making mistake after mistake.”

What Barry is Drinking: “I love the red reserva style wines from Rioja or Ribera Del Duero. They probably cost you forty to sixty bucks, they are four to six years old and they generally perform well above their price point.” 
Wine in Movies: Bottle Shock (2009), Sideways (2004), Somm (2013), Red Obsession (2013), Mondovino (2004), Corked (2009)
On 3D films: One aspect of technology currently polarising film viewers is that of 3D. According to Peak, “3D is much better than it used to be. Up until the last ten years, everyone looked really small in 3D; like tiny little miniature people. It was kind of like you were looking through a crystal ball at people rather than watching a film with life-sized people. I don’t mind the new 3D. The only problem is that sometimes, I feel like I’ve been cast onto a film set rather than into a film.” 

“The wine connoisseurs consider me naff because I like wines with a lot of oak. They think I’m an ingénue because I don’t know as much as they do. My friends mainly drink beer so they think I’m a poseur because I like aged wines." 

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