Local cinemas join fund-raising appeal in battle for survival

Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel Pic MUBI

Independent cinemas in Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and East Finchley have joined a national campaign set up to protect businesses in the movie distribution industry from closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Catford Mews in Catford, Genesis in Whitechapel, The Rio in Dalston and The Phoenix in East Finchley have joined the UK Cinemas Fund, which was created by movie streaming and distribution service MUBI, with the aim of raising £100,000 for independent cinemas and film festivals in the UK who may have been financially impacted because of lockdown.

Matt Whiteley, 33, the general manager of Genesis Cinema said independent cinemas have a unique voice and so if they were forced to close, local communities and the arts and culture industry would lose important cultural hubs.

He said: “Let’s make sure that our communities are supported and funded, otherwise all cinemas, local shops, local independent businesses could all get lost and we could end up with a completely homogenised high street.”

He said that the community could support cinemas by donating financially to the campaign or by buying memberships, however he said the best way for people to support them would be by going to the cinema once they re-open and when it is safe to do so.

Isra Al Kassi, 31, programme marketing manager at Catford Mews Cinema said that the fundraising campaign was important because it gave the public an insight into how cinemas were run, by showing them the threat they are under nationwide.

Catford Mews Cinema Pic Taran Wilkhu

She said: “We are a community cinema and we cannot run without the support of the community. I think this has been a really good way of involving the public and the community in the conversation about how we run and what we need to be able to still run. I think that through this campaign, the fact that we were able to put up a message [will] give the industry a bit more hope”.

The cinemas are raising awareness of the fund on their respective social media pages, as well as using their marquees to display a sign that reads “Dear Virus, you will not kill cinemas” to promote the cause to the wider public.

So far, the campaign has achieved £25,589 of its goal from 545 donors. £10,000 was donated by MUBI themselves with the aim of kickstarting the fund.

The total sum raised will then be donated to the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund, which was set up in April by the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Film Audience Network (FAN), an organisation comprised of UK based cinemas and film experts, to offer support to businesses within the industry.

If independent cinemas or film festivals are financially troubled as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, they will be able to apply to the fund for a financial grant.

Whiteley said that Genesis serves the local community by selling locally sourced products, offering screenings to different communities like parents and babies or for those who require subtitles. The cinema also works alongside The Tower Project, an organisation in Tower Hamlets that supports children and adults with disabilities, to offer work placements to young adults with learning difficulties.

Irene Musumeci, UK Marketing Manager at MUBI said that the cinemas joining the campaign and displaying marquee signs are messages of “defiance and solidarity” on behalf of the movie distribution industry.

She said: “It quickly became apparent that cinemas needed concrete financial support to survive. Lots of them have furloughed staff on the government’s scheme, which helps, but the cost of maintaining buildings, facilities and equipment are huge and ongoing. Without income from tickets and concessions, they face huge challenges”.

“The cultural and social work goes way beyond showing the latest box office success or arthouse gem. We cannot afford to lose them. They are also the soul of the industry, the place where people encounter new films for the first time that might change their lives and the way they look at the world in many different ways. A world without cinemas, without the shared experiences of watching universes imagined or real projected onto a screen, together or alone in a crowd is a world in which our dreams would get smaller. We simply refuse to let them go.”

Both Whiteley and Al Kassi said that they are hopeful their cinemas will re-open in July, on schedule with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s phased lifting of lockdown restrictions but acknowledge there will likely be safety guidelines that need to be followed.

Al Kassi added: “We just need to make sure we follow all guidelines and that we make sure our staff and customers are safe. I think it’s quite clear that it’s definitely not a decision that is in our hands. Neither was the decision in terms of closing for anyone. It was just following guidelines and we will continue to do that.”

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