03/12/2014
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World's smallest solar powered caravan cinema, part of the Alternative Caravan Club

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Cinema screen, surround sound, plenty of popcorn... This is one of the quirkiest caravans we've seen, and there's not a sticky floor in sight!

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Once a three-berth Euro-Camper in 1965, this tiny tourer has been transformed into cinema spectacle to enthuse and entertain film fans of all ages.

Artist Jo Furlong spotted the beginnings of the project rusting away in a hedge, realising the opportunity to create another of his moving masterpieces. He soon teamed up with filmmaker Paul O’Conner, resulting in the world’s smallest solar-powered picture house – the Sol Cinema. Jo talks to Caravan magazine...


How did the idea for turning a caravan into a cinema come about?

The numbers of people making short videos has exploded over the last few years, thanks to the availability of inexpensive equipment. We wanted to offer all these new videomakers (and audiences) an alternative to watching online, so a miniscule cinema seemed the ideal solution.


And what was the biggest surprise during the project?

Just how popular the Sol Cinema became so quickly. Within a month of our first few performances, we were getting booked for events in Ireland and all over the UK. We even had Austrian investors contacting us wanting to fund a franchise and American festivals wanting us to tour the US. People just seem to 'get it'. The crossover with nostalgia (caravans and old time cinemas), the environmentally fun message, and sheer quirkiness was a winning combination.

Sol Cinema caravan


With recycling an old caravan and having it run on solar power, the Sol Cinema is about as green a project as there can be. Was this environmentally friendly approach part of the concept, or was it a happy accident?

Sol Cinema was planned to be as eco as possible. I have been making films about environmental issues for nearly 20 years. Making the Sol Cinema into a practical example of how we can power everything by the energy of the Sun was important.

Apart from using renewable energy, we also wanted to use mostly recycled parts. We got carpets from a marquee hire company, curtains and material from a furnishing company, which was closing down, and our control panels came from a scrap pile at an airport. The caravan we saved from rotting away.

Solar power is a zero carbon way of generating energy. Our solar generator is silent, does not produce any fumes and give a pure sine wave power source with no voltage fluctuation making it safer for sensitive equipment. Solar generators saves us money too as there is no need to refuel with volatile fossil fuel based products.

How long did it take to build?

Much longer than we anticipated. Getting the solar set up was the trickiest part so it was more than a year of head scratching and actually doing it.


What was the biggest challenge with creating the Sol Cinema?

Finding someone who could work with our lithium batteries, which we imported from China. No one in the country knew anything about them so were put off. The batteries would allow us to store huge amounts of power in a tiny space. We did get it working but never perfectly so, sadly, we never really cracked it. In the end we replaced it with a solar generator using standard 12V DC 40 Ah batteries instead of lithium ones. We still think that Lithium batteries have a great future as they have no toxic waste.

The detailing both outside and in is so intricate in places. Has the outcome surpassed your expectations?

We have a team of very creative people involved. I can provide the best films and the right digital equipment as I am tapped into so many networks. While Jo Furlong, Ami and Beth Marsden are amazing in what they can do with a wide variety of material. The trio are all trained sculptors, artists and designers. We have years of experience of working on tiny budgets to make something very special. The Sol Cinema is always been added to so it is constantly evolving. The ceiling sky mural was added this year, which I particularly love.

Sol Cinema caravan


What's it like to tow?

Surprisingly easy. The size helps since it is a Euro Traveler designed originally for the Mini car. It is also designed to be very manoeuvrable, as we have to sometimes get the Sol Cinema into tight corners at events.

Recently we had to negotiate our way around a very swish pedestrianised shopping centre in Leeds. Just two of us pushed it past bollards, around corners, through tight doors for more than 500 yards without breaking into much of a sweat.

Do you think micro cinemas will catch on? It's happened with breweries and plenty of cottage industries due to the economic downturn...

I think it is already catching on, I know of many cinemas popping up- from Hot Tub cinemas to cycle in cinemas, roof top cinemas, cafe cinemas etc.

People are perhaps growing slightly bored of the multiplex plastic blast-your-eardrums-off theatres and are seeking a more rounded experience, which the Sol Cinema is offering.


Where has been your favourite venue to hold a screening?

So far it has to be Bestival – a music festival on the Isle of Wight. We were in the forest by a pond and most people were dressed up in the most wonderful outfits, which really added to the occasion.

Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

If anyone wants their own caravan converted, get in touch. We have a plethora of ideas and skills. Also we set up the Alternative Caravan Club if anyone has a caravan that entertains. Join us on alternativecaravanclub.co.uk

• Want to find out more about this little picture house on wheels? Visit thesolcinema.org. Now, who nicked my popcorn?
 




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