Bob Ennis was just 10 years old when he bought his first film projector and used his garden shed as his ‘cinema’ to show school mates a short clip of film.
Bob recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and throughout all those years his passion for the silver screen has never wavered. But at the same time he has kept fully in step with all the massive inventions and innovations that have changed the face of the film industry since he was a kid.
His studio is full of memorabilia from days gone by. But sitting alongside it is all the latest state of the art equipment, underlining his determination not to just dwell on the past.
Since moving to the Island in 1974 he has been responsible for discovering and reproducing historic clips that would have otherwise been lost forever. His amazing collection includes film of horse buses on Ventnor and Shanklin seafronts in 1906; the Cowes Regatta of 1914, and the first clip of the Isle of Wight railway system, shot in 1928. And recently archive film of the Freshwater line was also unearthed to add to the incredible collection.
Bob is also a key player in the ever-popular Medina Movies, which screens ‘grown up films for grown up people’ – often very different from multiplex offerings – two seasons a year, which invariably attract a full house. Medina Movies, based at Newport’s Medina Theatre, has just started its 21st anniversary celebrations with films every Wednesday evening.
Bob recalled: “It all started in 1941 when I bought an ancient toy 35mm film projector, with a torch battery for a lighting source and a handle to turn to motivate the images on the screen.” He soon acquired a 9.5mm machine, opening up a greater choice of material, and enabling him to build a collection of old black and white films.
After continuing his passion for movies during and after the war, his big break came in 1959 when he joined The John Lewis Partnership in Oxford Street, London and became secretary of The Partnership Film Society. He said: “Various film courses were made available for me and a 16mm camera was provided so I could cover events as they came up. I was made a full member of The British Film Institute which opened up many doors for me.”
It was at this time that Bob began to work with BFI’s chief programme officer John Huntley, a relationship that was to continue right up to John’s passing away in 2003.
Bob and his wife June moved to the Island to run a holiday caravan park. He continued: “I decided to purchase a state of the art 16mm cine camera and get on with some positive film making. My other great interest was railways. The IW Steam Railway was in its early stages and presented me with a wonderful opportunity to record some of its development. My early productions were ‘Terrier to Wootton’, ‘Piccadilly Line to Shanklin’ and ‘02 at Havenstreet’.
“In 1987 The Isle of Wight Film Archive was formed and with John Bartlett we became its trustees, with the object to make sure that what remained of the Island’s history on film was preserved within the archive.”
The demand to watch archive film was high, resulting in screenings in many of the Island’s village halls for local film shows. Bob said: “Our position in the Island’s cinema scene continued to grow, and the pinnacle of success came with our association with the Minghella family. In 1993 we were engaged to stage our first Gala Charity Film Premiere, with Anthony Minghella’s first Hollywood film ‘Mr. Wonderful’. We proved we could do it, and it was hailed as a great success.”
This followed on with further premieres, and ‘The English Patient’ ran to full houses for five weeks, and was running during the Oscar night itself. News in 2000 that a Multiplex Cinema would be opening in Newport looked as though it would spell the end of the venture. But within days of the Medina Movie Theatre closing there was uproar from audiences who wanted to still attend, and as a result it soon re-opened.
Bob still carries out selecting and bookings films for the Medina, but has handed over the projection operation to two theatre technicians. He added: “These days I am fully engaged in my first love – film production for DVD distribution. My earlier production, ‘Return to Smallbrook’ has now been restored from its original master and is currently enjoying a new lease of life. Other titles have drawn heavily from The Isle of Wight Film Archive including ‘Holiday Time in The 60s’ and ‘Yesterday’s Movies’ A new series of films are continuing to record events taking place on the Island’s Railways at present, ‘Isle of Wight Railway Runaround’ will in time contribute to the archive of the future.”
Other film commissions included a very ambitious production ‘Growing Up In Shanklin’ portraying life on the Island over the last 100 years.
“I am lucky to say that I am able to pursue my love of moving pictures and have managed to embrace all that modern computer technology can offer. There have never been more exciting opportunities than there are now. It is possible to create films to the most exacting and creative standards, at unbelievably low costs. I am looking forward to many hours in the future creating further films, drawing from the very considerable amount of material that awaits inclusion in productions yet to be completed,” he said.
Bob has no hesitation in naming his favourite actor and his favourite all-time film. He said: “It was a privilege to meet Anthony Minghella and his untimely death was a massive loss to the film industry. As for my favourite film, it has to be the 1937 classic ‘Oh, Mr Porter’ starring Will Hay.”