Stanthorpe's Arcadia.
Stanthorpe's Arcadia. QLD State Library

Cinema empire to be recounted

A STORY that started in Greece, wound up in Goondiwindi, made a mark on Stanthorpe and ended with a multimillion-dollar business is set to be played out on screen.

Post-production has started on a one-hour documentary on a movie dynasty that began nearly a century ago.

The Picture Show Men - covering the cinema exhibiting activities of the Sourris family throughout Queensland and Northern NSW - is being produced by Sydney-based Cahoots Australia.

It centres on the lives and activities of prominent art benefactor and past Australian Multiplex Cinemas chairman former Stanthorpe man James Sourris AM, his father Chris and grandfather Peter Sourry, who opened Armidale's Arcadia cinema in 1921.

It was back in the days of silent movies, hand-cranked projectors and when local pianists were hired to play the accompaniment.

"It's a terrific story,” producer John Hosking said.

"Replete with all the colour and movement you'd expect from a family that's been bringing the outside world to audiences all over through the magic of film at a time when there was little else on offer by way of public entertainment.

"James Sourris AM is a fascinating character, who carved an indelible niche in the country's movie business.”

Since then, he's built one of Australia's most important art collections - the James C Sourris AM Collection of Contemporary Art, 2000-2010 - and donated it to Queensland Art Gallery.

Now aged 80, James said he was three weeks old when he saw his first movie at the Stanthorpe Arcadia in 1938. "They put me inside the auditorium in a bassinet while my mother was selling tickets,” he said.

"But I've got to admit I don't remember.”

James Sourris AM during filming for a planned documentary.
James Sourris AM during filming for a planned documentary. Contributed

James's father, Chris, was also prominent in the movie exhibition business. In 1925, barely 20 years of age, he started showing films at the Inglewood Theatre.

The family's connection to Stanthorpe began in 1936 when Chris moved to town, where he screened movies in a leased hall called the Tam-O-Shanter.

He married Effie Sourry, whose father, Peter, was in partnership at the Arcadia Theatre in Armidale and was the first Greek exhibitor in Australia.With Peter's help, the couple bought the Arcadia Theatre in Stanthorpe in 1938. During the 15 years the couple had the theatre, they also ran the Rex Theatre in Wallangarra and acquired two grazing runs and a wolfram mine.

"There was a big build-up of people in Wallangarra and they never had any entertainment,” James said.

He has fond memories of his years in Stanthorpe.

"We went to primary school in Stanthorpe, my two sisters and I, and then I went on to Scots College in Warwick and my sisters went on to New England Girls School,” he said.

"My dad had a place on the outskirts of town, it was called Jamesvale, only a few miles outside of Stanthorpe.

Sons of Matthew premiere in Stanthorpe back in 1950 with Chris Sourris (left) with Jean, Elsa and Charles Chauvel (renowned filmmaker).
Sons of Matthew premiere in Stanthorpe back in 1950 with Chris Sourris (left) with Jean, Elsa and Charles Chauvel (renowned filmmaker). Contributed

"In effect my mother would sort of run the theatre and Dad spent all his time with pastures, to the extent the University of Queensland used to hold classes on his property.”

Chris became president of the Stanthorpe Racing Club,Stanthorpe Show Society, Centaur House fundraising committee and was heavily involved in the bowls club. The family went to Brisbane about 1952 and that's when their cinema empire really began.

James has always been enchanted by the big screen and, apart from a decade working a family property at Charleville, has spent a lifetime in the motion picture industry.

He founded Australian Multiplex Cinemas, was president of the Motion Picture Exhibitors Association of Queensland in the early '80s and was awarded the Order of Australia in 2011 for service to the arts and the community.

The documentary is due for completion in the coming months.

If people have any old photos or memorabilia of the Arcadia can they contact the Border Post office on 4685 5900.

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