«It was once a saltpeter factory, an apprentice school for the merchant sailors, a cannery in 19th century, and a garage.»

It is in the heart of Bordeaux, right in the middle of the hubbub of the Camille Jullian square that you will find Utopia. Utopia is a independent art-house cinema, “cinéma art et essai” in French, which gives you the opportunity to see, think and meet. Housed in what was once the Saint-Siméon church, “and then a garage”, it exudes an air of familiarity in the lobby, it tells a story of nearness.

Inside, it’s impossible not to look up to contemplate the majesty of the place. The stained glass window remains, but an echo is struck by the sound of the restaurant’s coffee machine and the buoyant discussions of the customers. The friendly atmosphere in the queue is about to burst when the doors open to the five screening rooms, where debates are launched against a well preserved baroque background.

Utopia wants to defend the cinema experience, go against a depersonalized society and propose a place of meeting and exchange. The programme is chosen with care, it is independent, committed and even political, and the original versions are always subtitled.

«We start by watching them,» says Stephen amused, «it’s a question of finding a balance between films that are commercially viable for us and independent ones»

The screening rooms have been renovated but they have their own particular ambiance – Photo: Utopia

L’Utopia, an Inclusive Cinema

What’s the added value? An inclusive cinema where the credits of the film do not signal the end. Utopia welcomes directors, rent rooms to associations and regularly offers entertainment. It is about maintaining a relationship and the life of the neighborhood, and to reflect on our mode of consumption and being opening toward that which surrounds us. An alternative to larger groups, more accessible, printed on recycled paper.

Just a hint to Netflix addicts (like us) who want to forget their favorite series for a moment: for your next flick and to support independent producers and distributors or (re)watch a cult film, Utopia is still there and it has been there for 20 years. And if the comfort of the sofa is too tempting, for a modest 5€ you get to download their selection of films in good resolution to your USB key.

The stained glass art summarize Utopia’s past – Photo: Utopia
The entrance hall – Photo: Utopia

Café Utopia – Photo: Utopia

Le Cinéma Utopia
Place Camille Jullian (Carte)

The French version of this article was first published in April 2019. Written by Anaïs Meunier.