It’s been already more than two months since we’ve set foot in a cinema and it feels like an eternity. For the cinema lovers, there might be light at the end of the very dark tunnel as the lockdown is being eased little by little. According to the latest news, the 4th of July would the day cinemas could re-open their doors. While it seems that the multiplex cinemas will be able to open on that day (if still permitted by then), the more independent cinemas might not be as is shown by the recent survey from the Independent Cinema Office (ICO).
Social distancing rule
It’s understandable that the big cinemas want to be ready for a July opening because of the possible release of ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mulan’. Many big chains will likely follow the strategy of Vue which includes giving families the possibility to isolate their seats from others, mandatory online booking, staggering screening times, and enhanced cleaning. This is to make sure that the social distance rule is upheld. Well, it’s exactly that rule that prevents smaller independent cinemas from being able to open their doors in July as well. According to 41% of the venues, they won’t be able to let the audience back in when social distancing measures are still in place. The main reasons for that are the practicalities of the venue and the need for large audience numbers to survive financially.
There are still 59% who think they might be able to open even with social distancing. The most important steps they would undertake is the placement of hand sanitiser stations (91%), face masks for staff (83%) and gloves for staff (80%). However, implementing social distancing rules in cinemas can’t go on forever as it would only work for approximately three months it seems. Why? Because of a 20% increase in costs (additional staffing, PPE and additional cleaning, etc.) and the 50% loss in capacity.
Not opening before September
However, even with social distancing, it seems that we will have to wait until the end of the summer to visit independent cinemas. While some venues think they may open in July or August, the majority expect to re-open in September. According to 14% of the respondents, they sadly won’t open until 2021, in the hope that social distancing will be a thing from the past.
It’s no surprise that independent cinemas want to wait until social distancing rules are (almost) non-existent and until the spread is under control. “As a small community cinema run largely with the support of volunteers we have to put the welfare of all those involved first. Social distancing will be difficult to achieve and is unlikely to provide confidence for staff volunteers and audiences to return in the short term.” is a reaction of one of the 497 independent cinema workers (amongst of which were CEOs, directors, and managers) that participated in this survey.
Many difficult months ahead
Saying that the upcoming months will be a challenge for the independent cinema is such an understatement. The last few weeks have already proven difficult and the future doesn’t look any brighter (yet). According to the survey, the biggest concerns are the practicalities of reopening with social distancing measures (no surprise there) and the audience’s confidence levels and lack of admissions. In the IOC report was stated that “audience confidence for our elderly demographic is going to be extremely challenging to regain. I fear that it would be better for our long term sustainability if we were to remain dark and furloughed until the need for social distancing is no longer required.”
How to support independent cinema?
Sadly, we won’t be able to return to independent cinemas soon. However, there are many ways to support them. The majority of the respondents thinks that help from government is much needed and that reduced distributor terms would also help them to survive during and after this pandemic. An extension of the furlough scheme until the end of 2020 and a scheme for PPE would also be extremely helpful.
The audience itself can also play a big part in the survival of independent cinemas. First of all, there’s the UK Cinemas Fund that’s been created by MUBI, the online streaming service, and film distributor. The campaign aims to raise £100,000 to help support independent cinemas and film festivals across the UK, so every penny is vital in the survival of the film industry in the UK. There are also many cinemas for which you can buy memberships and e-vouchers to support them. One thing is for sure: Independent cinemas need our support so that they can come out of this pandemic ready to open and stronger than ever.