UK independent cinemas boom as multiplexes close doors | Film industry

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Multiplexes may be closing their doors or reducing their hours but it is not all doom and gloom in the wonderful world of cinema. Box offices at many independent cinemas are reporting solid audience numbers, with some selling out screenings and others encouraging blockbuster fans to give arthouse films a try.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that overall it’s a difficult time,” said Jason Wood, creative director for film and culture at HOME in Manchester. “We feel huge sympathy for people losing their jobs. But it’s an exciting time for independent cinema. It’s really important to recognise there is an industry beyond the mainstream blockbuster film culture.”

While multiplex screenings for Tenet have sometimes been sparsely attended, often films shown by HOME are selling out. “We had a lot of love while we were closed during lockdown: people were sending donations and taking up memberships,” Wood said.

One tactic has been to show films on the big screen, such as the Kitty Green movie The Assistant, that were streamed during lockdown. Some viewers saw the film online and wanted to see it on the big screen; others heard about it because it had done well on streaming. It has been a sell-out at HOME.

Rocks film stills Directed by Sarah Ruby Stokes as Agnes, Anastasia Dymitrow as Sabina, Kosar Ali as Sumaya, Bukky Bakray as Shola ‘Rocks’, Tawheda Begum as Khadijah and Afi Okaidja as Yawa
Hits at the Watershed in Bristol have included the British coming-of-age drama Rocks

“But for me the really big success is the BFI restoration of La Haine,” said Wood. “We’ve played it now for four weeks and it’s sold out every single performance.” Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder has also been hugely popular.

“Many of the successes have been foreign language, a number are directed by women, some directed by people of colour,” Wood said.

Another venue welcoming back audiences in good numbers is Watershed in Bristol. “We hit our September target and our October advance sales are really brilliant,” its cinema curator, Mark Cosgrove, said. Its big hits have included the British coming-of-age drama Rocks. “There is an overall crisis, but it’s in the commercial blockbuster model. Some of the reporting is suggesting that cinema is dead because the Bond film has been moved back. There’s a lot more film out there.”

Meanwhile, capacity at the Queen’s film theatre in Belfast, like elsewhere, has been reduced because of coronavirus. Joan Parsons, head of the theatre, said: “We are full for most screenings at the moment, and have to turn people away. It is clear that there is an audience that want to attend cinemas, all of which have made significant investment in health and safety measures.”

Not all independent cinemas are thriving, of course. WTW, a beloved family-run business that has cinemas in Newquay, Truro, St Austell and Wadebridge in Cornwall, issued an emotional plea this week for people to take a chance on the sort of arthouse film they might not normally see, or pop in for a takeaway coffee or box of popcorn.

It’s director, Mark Williams, said: “There have been plenty of sleepless nights and many tears shed. It is not just cinemas that are affected. From sound and projection engineers to our local drinks and concessions suppliers, there are so many affected by the current huge challenges. We’re determined this won’t be the end.”

Bill and Ted Face the Music - film still
Bill and Ted Face the Music was not a success at the Commodore is Aberystwyth. ‘When studios and distributors finally release their blockbusters there might not be so many cinemas to play them in,’ the theatre said. Photograph: ✎Most Excellent Productions, LLC

While the cinemas of Aberystwyth, mid-Wales, defied a government ban at the start of the second world war and stayed open, Covid could force the Commodore, run by Mark Davies’ family since the late 1950s, temporarily to shut.

A few good nights of James Bond can usually keep the cinema going for months, so the loss of 007, the new Wonder Woman and Black Widow films is a bitter blow. “We had Bill and Ted this week. We had almost single figure audiences which is a shame – it’s not that bad a film. The studios and distributors are being shortsighted, to put it mildly. When they finally release their blockbusters there might not be so many cinemas to play them in,” Davies said.

Davies, his wife, Cindy, and son Neil are currently keeping the cinema going. “We’re doing cleaning, maintenance, everything,” said Davies. “We’re hanging on. We won’t give up.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK independent cinemas boom as multiplexes close doors | Film industry

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