21st Century Cinema

Indy-Pendent Cinemas and the Schedule of Doom?

As a cinema manager, I always look forward to a Monday morning as I get in touch with our film booker and plan our upcoming programme. Well, that is to say, I *used* to look forward to a Monday morning. In the weeks before lockdown, I approached it with the same attitude as Garfield (without the joy of lasagna on the horizon). The swathe of delayed films, and titles hitting premium streaming services, meant that Monday morning was not so much a case of diving into a treasure trove of cinema, but rather of going through the freezer the day before the big shop to see what’s left.

But while the multiplex sites are struggling to fill their screens, once lockdown ends and we can reopen safely, there is a huge opportunity for the independent circuit to find new fans, highlight great films that would not usually have seen the light of day, AND redefine what ‘cinema’ is in the 21st Century.

A chance to present some different choices

Over the last few months, we have seen Bond delayed until April 2021, Wonder Woman put off until Christmas (or possibly lost to streaming services) and The King’s Man pushed back until the New Year. Many hailed this as the death knell for cinemas. But it meant that suddenly I – and other cinema managers like me – was presented with a blank canvas. As such, I’ve already been able to show 23 Walks, about romance blossoming against the backdrop of dog walking, and Saint Maud, which is a frankly phenomenal British debut film about a healthcare worker who becomes obsessed with a higher calling. Looking ahead, we hope to be able to schedule titles that have been lauded at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. These include Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, and Eternal Beauty, starring Sally Hawkins.

Reimagining the cinema experience

This whole situation, while clearly dire for the wider industry, has acted as a reset switch for cinemagoers. They have had and will have the opportunity to experience a whole different world of film with us. And indie filmmaking is now hugely in demand. Distributors like Altitude are solidly offering up titles for cinemas to programme. Even Geoff’s been back, now we have Maltesers back in stock. Nobody loses out by trying new things. This enrichment of the cinema landscape means that whereas once I may have been reluctant to book in a film dealing with weighty subject matter – as with Eternal Beauty – I now know that there is an audience there, captive or otherwise.

So, it’s certainly not, in my humble opinion, the beginning of the end for cinemas. Perhaps, instead, it is the beginning of a new era that was always inevitable anyway. With younger people accessing films via streaming services, there was always going to be this adjustment of what is saleable. But as I always say – film fans are film fans, no matter how they access them. With Netflix committing to releasing films in cinemas as well as on their service, it is clear that choice is going to be the future. The days of queuing around the block for the latest smash hit may be on their way out, but the days of sitting in the dark and enjoying a film (except for a painfully long seventy-three seconds during which Geoff’s fingers chase his last Malteser around the bag) aren’t going anywhere.

WORDS Nathan Smith

Luxe Cinema, Alexandra Road, Wisbech, PE13 1HQ

Read last month’s cinema news here

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