Rooftop Cinema: Down Under’s over the top viewing experience

Text by Fiona Killackey
Photography by John Gollings

Melbourne, Australia is a city renowned for its hidden laneways, out of the way bars and heralded boutiques that are nearly impossible to locate. Living by the motto, “the harder to find, the better the reputation,” Melburnians have made it their mission to keep the positions of the city’s freshest bars, finest restaurants and most eclectic stores hidden from international tourists and interstate visitors. Coming only via word of mouth and the occasional street flyer, the journey to find these sites is almost as important as reaching the final destination.

Building on this Melbourne mannerism are the creators of Rooftop Cinema, an outdoor theater that allows its audience to feel they have truly discovered a unique and secretive setting. Screening films throughout summer, Rooftop Cinema is located at the Rooftop Bar, an open-air watering hole atop a sixth-floor building in the heart of the city. Since opening in December 2006, Rooftop has become renowned for serving cheap beer against a backdrop of eclectic music, allowing customers to order food from retro-styled seats using their cell phones and, most of all, for its magnificent panoramic views of Melbourne’s skyline.

“The idea for Rooftop resulted through conversations about our social lives,” says Rooftop Creative Director, Barrie Barton. “Everyone involved was working together publishing a Melbourne city guide. We decided Melbourne needed a different kind of social experience that brought together film, good people, food, drink and the best view of the city we could find.” The result is an establishment that feels instantly familiar, as if you’re visiting a friend’s apartment rather than buying a ticket to an outdoor event. “It’s incredibly intimate. Most outdoor cinemas place you among thousands of other patrons, whereas we only seat 185,” says Barton, “I’d like to think our attention to detail defines us as well. We obsess about everything in the Rooftop experience from the iPod playlist to the food and furniture.”

Deciding on which films to screen is another thing the crew behind Rooftop Cinema like to fixate on. Rather than screening the latest in Hollywood blockbusters, they choose films according to merit and how they will work in the outdoor setting. “We play on the fact that context makes a big difference to how you experience a film. You can watch Antonioni’s Blow Up at home on the couch and enjoy it, but to watch it at Rooftop on a hot summer’s night is a million times better,” says Barton. “Ultimately we hope to offer anyone who comes up to Rooftop Cinema a night that touches them on every sensory level.” Level 6, 252 Swantson St.,