Sawtell First Avenue Cinema

Contact Person: Jill Nash
Street: Sawtell Cinema, First Avenue
Postcode: 2454
Suburb: Sawtell, NSW
Country: Australia
Phone: 0431 029 378
Number of Screens: 1
Session times: Crowd Funding Campaign:
Video for Cinema: 2004 Interview

From Facebook page 2 Spetember 2015:

A huge thank you to the people of Sawtell, the Coffs Coast and beyond who have dug deep to help save Sawtell Cinema. The campaign has ended with over 500 people contributing $142,581. That's enough for all new seating and high quality screens in two cinemas - so we will be experiencing high quality cinema in comfort and style. We look forward to seeing everyone at the movies....when Sawtell Cinema reopens in December 2015!

Media Release                                                                 


27 July 2015 




Sawtell Cinema Demonstrates the Power of Local


Local Support raises over $75,000 in 4 Weeks


Today the Save Sawtell Cinema fund achieved its stated fundraising goal of $75,000 in a very short 4 weeks, thanks to an incredible outpouring of local support.


 The group driving the campaign are bowled over by the result.  “We knew this community loved Sawtell Cinema, but the support surpassed all of our expectations,” said Jill Nash, Chair of Sawtell Cinema Pty Limited.  “This just goes to show what the Coffs Coast is capable of.”


The campaign will continue to the end of August as planned, and they are upping the ante to $125,000.  “If we could raise another $50,000 that would fund screens in both cinemas,” said Nash.  “It would be a spectacular result if our local community could fund both the seats and the screens which are the absolute heart of the cinema.”


Local Builders, Architects and Designer to Revitalise the Cinema


To add to the cinema excitement, local builders FM Glenn will commence renovations early in August.


A broad reaching review was undertaken to choose the right builder for this job, including local and non-local builders.  In the end it was FM Glenn’s strong local ties that won them the contract. 


Operating on the Coffs Coast since 1979, the builders demonstrated a genuine understanding of the significance of Sawtell Cinema to the community and a willingness to work with the new owners to keep costs down.


“We had always hoped we could keep this project local, so we are just delighted that a local builder came forward with the best proposal for the cinema,” commented Nash.


Other local firms have developed the renovation plans.  Sawtell’s g2 architects have contributed detailed plans that simultaneously bring the cinema into the 21st century and retain its heritage.  Local interior designer Jodie Anne Parkhill, donated her skills to the project, establishing a design for the inside of the cinema that celebrates its art deco roots.


Plans call for the cinema to be divided into two theatres, each with digital projection equipment.  Where generations of cinema patrons have had to trudge through the rain for a pit stop, toilets will be incorporated inside the theatre.  And, of course, the cinema will have all new seating and screens, thanks to the generosity of the Coffs Coast community.


For more information please contact:




Jill Nash                                                                         Stephanie Ney


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.                                            This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


0431 029 378                                                             0421 346 713



22 December 2014

Sawtell Cinema Set to Rise Again


A giant step has been taken toward saving the much-loved Sawtell Cinema.  A group of local backers, acting as The Sawtell Cinema Group, closed a contract this week with the current owners, Doris and Alan Brissett, to purchase the building.  


The deal is contingent on approval of a DA to renovate the historic theatre.  The intention of the Sawtell Cinema Group is to incorporate modern comfort and technology, whilst retaining the 1940s façade and ambiance held dear by generations of locals and visitors.


The cinema was put on the market in March 2012, and the last movie was screened on 30 December, 2012.  Locals feared that their cherished movie house might become yet another shop front or café on Sawtell’s already crowded First Avenue strip.


The current move to save the cinema is the brainchild of local Sawtellian, Stephanie Ney.  She enrolled in the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in March 2014 with the express purpose of finding a way to return the Sawtell Cinema to the community.  She successfully enrolled interested locals in her dream and a plan began to take shape.  


“When I started talking to people about the idea of saving the cinema I was overwhelmed by offers to help.  It seemed that the whole community was desperate for this to happen,” says Stephanie.


Oliver Gee was married in the Sawtell Cinema, so Stephanie’s idea of saving the cinema was music to the Gee family’s ears.  Their business g2 architects, has contributed hours of architectural time, creating the initial ideas and plans for renovation.  Accountant Denis Jeff had already been looking for ways to save the cinema when Stephanie approached him.  He conceived the idea of establishing a property trust and worked tirelessly with Stephanie to seek out backers willing to stump up the cash to acquire the cinema.  


A total of 19 people stepped forward to invest.  These angel investors all share a passion for cinema in general and the Sawtell Cinema in particular.  Largely local, 17 of the 19 investors own property in Sawtell.  For many, the cinema’s presence was an important fact in the decision to live in Sawtell.


This will not be the first time the cinema has been saved by the community.  When the cinema closed after the floods of 2009 a group of citizens, known as the Friends of the Sawtell Cinema, stepped forward to ensure the doors would be reopened.  


Jill Nash spearheaded the establishment of the Friends, and is playing a leading role yet again.   One of the first to put her hand up to invest, she is now chairing the Board of the Sawtell Cinema Group.  


“I’m just so thrilled to see the community responding again.  The goodwill out there is astounding,” says Jill.


Asked if she was excited that the contract has finally been closed she responds with cautious enthusiasm.  “It’s wonderful that we have come this far.  But we need to remember that the job is only just beginning and there are plenty of hurdles ahead.”


The first hurdle will be getting the DA through Coffs Harbour City Council, and Jill cautions that it may take weeks before it becomes clear that the project will actually proceed.  Assuming the DA is approved and the sale finalised, then the real work begins.


“This is a community project and we will be looking to the community for their strength and support throughout this process,” says Jill.  But for now the community must wait with fingers crossed, as Council decides the fate of this grassroots effort to revive a local icon.

Sawtell Cinema’s final screening 30 December, 2012 Or maybe not?




The back story. Here is the news as we knew it before the dramatic media release above, along with our hopes that something would happen

 The Owners Barry and Gretel Brissett, closed the Cinema in 2012 after  operating it for 71 years. So much do locals miss it, we hear that they have created "refugees" of Sawtell's Cinema and regularly petition the multiplex in Coffs Harbour to screen the Art House movies they so sorely miss.

Before we get to the interesting history of the cinema, a word ot two about the present situation. We note that cinema is still intact, still on the market 

We understand that the reasons for closing were fatigue on the part of the owners, and the cost of installing a new digital projector.  Many small cinemas have closed for the same reasons and some have since  re opened with community support

Things have changed. The cost of such projectors has come down since Sawtell  closed and single screen venues are now doing much better. There is a  realization that charming little theatres like Sawtell are what the older audience prefers, and these days, the grey hairs are a very important discretionary dollar .

The fact that Huskisson pictures, (you'll find it on our site)  a single screen,  has just had it's best year ever financially, might encourage the owners of Sawtell  to take a second look. Indeed,  the owners of Huskisson are not only running a second single screen at Sussex inlet, they have bought the Arcadia twin at Uladulla and in 6 months grown the business by 20%. Two screenis is often a good idea. More than two and the intimacy is gone

Both Huskisson and Sussex inlet are serving much smaller communities than Sawtell, suggestimg that this town might have no problem supporting an art house cinema as it used to do.

There's now more to offer too, so many events that can be piped  via the digital projector, concerts, plays, operas,  from London and New York, as well as films which will never arrive in Coffs harbour. So, a local screen will have new riches to offer which will not bring it into competition with the Multiplex at Coffs.. 

 Also on the single screen success side, Mount Vic Flicks which closed a year ago for similar reasons, the owners were tired, re opened in just months,  and has been going great guns for over a year now.

Boutique cinemas are tourist draws as well as being vital community hubs. They bring an aura of world culture to small towns, making people feel less islated. more urbane.

(When we wrote this, we had no idea how far plans had advanced)

If money could be found for the projector,  would the owners consider renting the venue to those who'd like to give it another go? It could be a  communty group such as run similar cinemas all over  NSW, You'll find them all,  along with their contact numbers, on this site. Many cinema operators with years in the business, would be willing to help. Everyone wants boutique cinemas to survive and thrive

 Such a move if successful. could also make finding a buyer easier.

Now,  for some history. This report is from an interview with then Cinema Manager , Coll Brissett while it was still running  and was featured in,  THE COLOURFUL HISTORY OF SAWTELL FIRST AVENUE CINEMA - Focus Magazine Coffs Harbour

 The cinema was purchased by my grandparents, Doris and Alan Brissett, in 1941. The cinema is currently owned by my parents, Barrie and Gretel, and has been managed by myself and my brother John for the past 10 years. My grandmother was born in Bonville and actually started up the very first shop in Sawtell, a general store, at the age of 15. Prior to Alan and Doris purchasing the old building, it was a Community Hall, staging dances, church, public meetings and the like. In 1941, they converted the building into a cinema and built a tiered wooden floor to enable patrons to have a much better view of the films.

In 1955, disaster struck, and a mini-cyclone ripped through Sawtell – totally demolishing the cinema. Barrie, who was on leave from the Army, had to fly up from Sydney and assist in removing all of the debris, so that work could commence on re-building the complex. While re-building, ‘the show must go on’ became the catch-cry, and Sawtell had its very own open-air cinema for the next 12 months! The projector was powered by an old Ford pick-up truck battery, and patrons would bring their own cap-guns for the Westerns and umbrellas for those rainy nights.

The cinema was rebuilt in triple brick and still stands today, despite disaster striking again in March 2009, when a metre of water flooded the town causing extensive damage and forcing the cinema to close for 6 weeks.

Location Map:
Located in: New South Wales