Secret Cinema finally lifts the lid on hush-hush Hackney project

The organisers of a popular top-secret immersive cinema experience have spilled the beans on their latest event which saw more than 13,000 film fans turn up to watch a film in Hackney without knowing where or what they would be watching.

Secret Cinema turned the former Cardinal Pole Lower School in Victoria Park Road, Hackney, into a penitentiary to recreate cult classic, the Shawshank Redemption.

Frank Darabont’s powerful film about humanity, truth, despair and hope is based on a true story, and cinema fans paying �45 a head were told what to wear and given a new identity, becoming male citizens of Oak Hampton who were summoned to appear in court.

The immersive role play experience, run by Future Cinema, saw 13,500 convicts sentenced at Oak Hampton Court House – or Bethnal Green Library in Bethnal Green Road.

Guards then transported the convicts via blacked out 1940s prison buses almost identical to the ones in the film, to the Shawshank State Prison, where cinema-goers were let loose in a recreation of the film’s world, with actors playing prison guards and prisoners.

The Gazette reported last month the phenomenon had seen a backlash from nearby residents, who complained hundreds of film fans dressed up as prisoners had been yelling and marching up and down the schoolyard.

Some residents are fighting Future Cinema’s new application to extend its licence until June, and a licensing sub-committee meeting is scheduled in a fortnight.

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If granted, Secret Cinema’s production will reopen from January 10 to February 12 as a live – non-secret – Future Cinema project, the first of its kind.

The production has worked with community partners like PEN International, and participants wrote more than 500 letters of support to imprisoned journalists, writers and activists who are currently imprisoned unjustly around the world, calling for their release.

Others made Christmas cards to support charity Arts Against Extradition – who are campaigning for a review of the British US extradition treaty, and now following the production the audience will be encouraged to participate in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign.