Art house showman Paul Dravet draws the curtains on his career

Paul Dravet is retiring after running the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace since Mike Walsh bought the then-dilapidated Cremorne cinema in 1986 and spent millions restoring it.

One of Australia’s most respected exhibitors and a staunch advocate for Australian films and upscale fare, Dravet departs on September 6.

“It’s hard to believe somebody as ageless as Paul Dravet is retiring. He’s supported our films, even when he didn’t want to, and always set a very high benchmark for taste and showmanship,” Transmission Films’ Andrew Mackie tells IF.

“Without him, the exhibition world loses some of its shine. That said, I don’t quite believe he doesn’t still have a lot to contribute. He always struck me a somebody who lives for cinema.”

Universal Pictures MD Mike Baard concurred: “Paul, or Dravet as he is affectionately known, is one of our industry’s great showmen. His dedication to his audience and to providing them uniquely curated cinema experiences is legendary and his passionate commitment to the Orpheum has ensured one of Sydney’s great cinema treasures has not only survived but thrived under his leadership.

“Paul leaves a great legacy and will long be an inspiration to many in the industry. On behalf of the staff of Universal Pictures, past and present, we wish Paul a very happy retirement.”

David Stratton, who is at the Venice Film festival, said: “The Orpheum is, next to the State, my favourite Sydney cinema. It is so well programmed and it evokes the great traditions of the ‘real’ cinemas of the past. I love seeing films there, not that I see many these days.”

The Orpheum opened in 1935 as a 1735-seat cinema and theatre, complete with orchestra pit and scenery fly-tower. It was a family-run business run by Bob Virgona, who often gave cinemagoers a lift home.

It closed in the late 1970s and was taken over by property developers. When cinephile Walsh bought the building he described it as a “crappy shopping arcade” with only the ceiling and parts of the proscenium remaining from the original building.

The venue reopened in 1987 with quirky Swedish drama My Life as a Dog alongside Fatal Attraction and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Dravet was the general manager until he handed the reins to his deputy Alex Temesvari late last year, switching to director of programming.

Temesvari, who runs the cinema with operations manager Sam Hanson, will take on responsibility for programming.