Many of the West Country’s cinemas could disappear unless more people return to watch movies, according to a Wells man who’s been in the industry for more than 50 years.
Derek Cooper ran the city’s Film Centre until his retirement and says with capacity now reduced by around 75%, plus major blockbusters put on hold, there is a risk many will go out of business.
There are some big-name cinema chains in the UK, but more than half of the venues showing movies are independent, like the Wells Film Centre. After being shut for months it has now reopened with plenty of Covid-safety measures in place.
Despite reopening on 24 July, proprietor of the cinema, Sally Cooper, says that does not mean business is booming again.
"It’s really tough at the moment for lack of seating capacity, due to social distancing and also the lack of the big blockbusters, albeit we still have the smaller distributors really supporting cinemas by having new releases," she says.
"The big films like Mulan and Tenet have been moved on but we still need people to come and watch the other new releases that are out."
The Wells Film Centre has been in the city for nearly 30 years. Sally took over the running of the family business eight years ago when her dad Derek retired. He still acts as an industry consultant.
“I’ve been in the industry basically over 50 years, since I started as a rewind boy next door at the old Regal,” he said.
“I have to say it’s probably the first time in my career that I’ve been this concerned and this worried as to whether, and it’s not just independents, whether cinema will continue in Britain. It has reached that really serious point."
Mr Cooper says he knows of one West Country cinema that, after opening, is about to close again.
“We say to people please don’t be worried. Here it’s probably as Covid-safe as anywhere in the city, at the moment," he said.
"I am deeply worried. We need to get through the next six to eight weeks, to be honest.”
Despite the fears, there is a ray of hope with a new £30 million fund to support independent cinemas soon opening for applications.
It will be managed by the industry charity the British Film Institute (BFI). The money comes from a £1.5 billion arts rescue package.
Ben Luxford is the Head of Audiences at the BFI. He says: “This is a fund specifically designed for them. We lobbied for these independent cinemas to make sure they were a part of the arts package and I’m so glad that we’ve got it.
“It’s clear that the government does recognise the role that these independent cinemas have within their local communities. It’s going to be vitally important for them to both apply for and access this funding.”
The fund will be open for applications from 10 August, issuing grants that will enable non-profit and independent cinemas to open with safety measures in place protecting employees and audiences. The deadline to apply is 30 October.
There are nearly 800 cinemas in the UK and, despite being given the green light to reopen on 4 July, around 80% of them remain closed. It is hoped the grants will help many of them to welcome back film-lovers as soon as possible.