Charles ‘Mr Rio’ Rubinstein, the man who ran Hackney’s cult community cinema, quits

Rio cinema Kingsland Hi St Dalston London ©
Charles Rubinstein, Rio cinema gen manager ©
Rubinstein: Don’t call me Mr Rio

THE RIO is facing another year of problems as it loses Charles Rubinstein, the man who has run the cinema for 23 years.

By the end of this month December 2014 general manager Rubinstein will have worked the notice period that started when he quit in the summer.

Asked by Loving Dalston why, he would say only that it was “a good moment” for him to leave.

“Looking forward to an interesting new life”, he added: “I hope to be able to align my cinematic interests even closer with my working life than I was able to at the Rio.”

Rio bus stop sign 15Dec12 Rio cinema Kingsland High St Dalston London ©
In the pictures: Rio bus stop

He has over the years not always had a good relationship with the boards under which he has worked, often seeming to view them as an interfering nuisance.

Loving Dalston offered the chairman of directors, Patrick Lyons, several chances to praise Rubinstein for his contribution.

Lyons, whose day job is lawyering in the City, not only refused, he hinted at legal action if Loving Dalston reported even his no-comment.

Last year, 2013, Lyons appealed to Rio supporters for “any amount… large or small… to keep Hackney’s oldest independent cinema trading” because its funds were “depleted”.

At the time Lyons said the café in the Rio foyer was seen by the board as vital to the future of the Rio. “Initiatives with partners” would be carried out “to explain the offerings to the community”.

But no initiatives have been evident in what has become a highly competitive local picture-house market and the café, which obtained an alcohol licence until 2010, still does not open until lunchtime.

Anyone who was hoping to quiz the board on such issues will have been disappointed: at this late stage the board has neither announced a date for this year’s annual general meeting nor published the minutes of the 2013 AGM.

Rio cinema Dalston London ©
Rio: rated best independent cinema by a listing magazine

Rubinstein has worked at the Rio for a total of 30 years. In response to an affectionate reference to him as Mr Rio he said: “Do not refer to me anywhere as Mr Rio.” Lots of people worked at the cinema, he said, and they had contributed as much as he had.

As for the London living wage, which lately made news when Ritzy Brixton cinema staff went on strike to achieve it, and when protesters called Hackney Picturehouse management Scrooges for withholding it, he said: “I regret that I will be leaving without having been able to raise the Rio’s financial performance to a sufficient level to be able to pay all staff the London Living Wage or more.

“Disappointing as this is, I would point out that as far as I am aware the only cinemas able to pay the London Living Wage as a minimum are those that either receive significant amount of funding support (eg, Barbican, BFI Southbank) or as in the case of Curzon Artificial Eye, mini circuits with well-located and profitable cinemas.

Rio Cinema cafe Dalston Lon March 2013 ©
Foyer down below: the Rio café obtained an alcohol licence only four years ago

“I would point out that the London Living Wage at £9.15 is in fact 40% higher than the National Minimum Wage at £6.50.”

Ignoring the fact that this overlooks the case of the Ritzy and Hackney Picturehouse, his argument seems to be that independent-cinema staff should be prepared to work below the living wage so that lovers of art-house movies can see their kind of film in a darkened auditorium.

Last month the Rio was named London’s best indie cinema by Time Out. The local council has called it the jewel in Hackney’s crown. But the council has promiscuously applied that particular cliché to other outfits. Who knows how sincere the compliment was?

The new general manager has been named as Oliver Meek.

David Altheer 241214© David Altheer

* Update 010115: the latest Rio programme, posted several days ago, does not mention the imminent departure of the general manager nor introduce his replacement. No mention, either, of the failure to meet the deadline for the 2014 AGM.

* Backstory: Rio asks fans for moneyPicturehouse scores community festival pioneered by Rio and Council gives prime Hackney site to Picturehous

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.

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