And here we go… the UK government has announced that cinemas in England can reopen from 04 JULY as long as social distancing – & some quite drastic reductions in seating capacity – are observed.
By RADIANT CIRCUS
Looking around London’s indie film scene, the response to the latest UK Gov relaxing of lockdown is likely to be muted. Not only has resilience funding only just been released for already struggling venues (which will need to be spent with staff on furlough…), there is no sure sign that audiences will come flooding back in the numbers required to keep venues afloat. Crucially, guidelines for safe cinema operation – to be agreed between the UK Cinema Association and the government – have yet to be published. They are expected soon and we’ll review them from the audience perspective as soon as we can.
Looking for indications of what cinema-going might be like post lockdown, we took a look a couple of weeks back at the Independent Cinema Office’s Reopening Cinemas report. The findings weren’t overly optimistic… The little that we currently know about proposed cinema operation from 04 JUL, even with today’s reduction in social distancing from 2m to 1m, won’t necessarily change the significant issues shared by venues in that report.
It’s not that the social distancing and hygiene requirements aren’t acknowledged as necessary – neither TROLLS: WORLD TOUR nor PARASITE are worth getting sick for – but the reduced seating and screening capacity might make the income from showing films impossible to operate on (particularly if food and other concessions are significantly reduced).
And that’s before any battles for the future of our venues are factored in, like the one that has recently erupted to save the historic Rio Cinema in Dalston. Given the financial challenges faced by many indie screens before the COVID-19 crisis, it’s too easy to imagine that we will witness further urgent campaigns to save London’s fabled venues in the near future.
Challenges don’t end there… There’s a potential famine of new titles to fill screens with content, although this is likely to affect chains like Picturehouse, Curzon and Everyman more than single screen venues and film clubs. Given that theatres can reopen but a ban on live performance remains, we might see more silver screens popping up across the West End and beyond in direct competition to established cinema venues.
For more inside news on reopening, we read an excellent article from Time Out London where managers of several London indies share their perspectives on reopening (inc Peckhamplex, The Castle Cinema, Rio Cinema and The Lexi). Written before today’s announcements, these managers report many of the same issues as the ICO. There’s also a revealing article from an anonymous multiplex manager sharing misgivings about the costs of reopening too early over at Film Stories.
Whatever happens next, we’ll try keeping across as much indie screen information as we can here at radiantcircus.com. We will begin with holding a weekly vigil in the form of our Friday newsletter, THE BALLY (you can sign up for that HERE). When that gets too big for its boots, we’ll resume our weekly screen digests and, at some future point we’ll be back up to full speed with monthly rep roundups and daily updates.
Until then, stay safe and we continue to look forward to seeing you in the darkness again soon.
Richard – Barker-In-Chief, RADIANT CIRCUS
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Main featured image: The Castle Cinema.