Independent theatres are still reeling from the three-year COVID plague, but a year of blockbuster movie releases has given struggling owners hope.
Michelle Coles, proprietor of Cinema Augusta in Port Augusta and other cinemas in Moonta and Kadina, said there were relatively few movies filmed during the pandemic.
“We’ve had a really tough time procuring film product over the last two or three years,” she explained.
“We’re only now beginning to get our film product through.
“Fortunately, we worked extremely hard and were pretty financially solid, so we were able to handle it [the business] ourselves and simply keep our heads over water.”
Foot traffic at Ms Coles’ theatres is still down by approximately 40%, but fresh film releases this year have her feeling optimistic.
“I’m not sure if people aren’t returning to the cinema because they’re used to watching TV at home [and] they’re used to streaming,” she explained.
“Is it because of COVID that they are still afraid to return to crowded places?
“There’s a lot of fantastic cinematic product coming out this year… so we’re hoping it helps us.”
Part of Blyth’s furniture
Locals in Blyth, 13 kilometers west of Clare in South Australia’s Mid North, take pleasure in their cinema.
The Blyth Cinema has been open for about 20 years and recently expanded from one to two screens.
“COVID threw a wrench in the works, putting us to the test… “But it depends on the movie and how we’re doing,” manager Natalie McElroy said.
People travel to the movie from neighbouring towns, including buses from Adelaide.
“[The cinema] complements many enterprises in town… It’s not simply the town’s one-hit wonder; we collaborate with others to ensure that everyone benefits,” Ms McElroy explained.
“The residents are overjoyed that it has arrived… Everyone thinks it’s amazing that a small community of 500 people possesses such a facility.”
Casualty of COVID
In May of last year, Wallis Cinemas took over the lease for Gawler Cinemas north of Adelaide.
However, community relations manager Deanna Wallis announced the corporation would depart the lease at the end of January after “struggling with product post-COVID”.
“We went in with the finest of intentions, truly wanting to revitalize Gawler Cinema,” she explained.
“A lot of films are still waiting to have their video effects done since, over COVID, the streaming services and TV shows gained priority.
“We’re still playing catch-up, and attendance just hasn’t been there, so we had to make that dreadful decision — one we really don’t want to make.”
Ms Wallis reported that Gawler Cinemas had less than ten patrons on some evenings.
Wallis Cinemas has cinemas in Piccadilly, Mt Barker, Noarlunga, Mitcham, and Mildura, Victoria.
It also manages the movie scheduling for 90 independent cinema screens in Australia.
“We’re excited to see where 2023 takes us, and we’re hoping the community will unite behind us,” Ms Wallis said.
A change in focus
Scott Seddon, President of Independent Cinemas Australia, stated that it will take time for cinemas to return to pre-pandemic patronage levels.
“Right now, our sector is dealing with contracts and agreements that were made two to three years ago,” he stated.
“Who knows what can happen… but I believe there’s a good probability that by the end of this year, the Australian sector will be back to around 2019 numbers.”
Mr. Seddon predicted that theatres’ business models would shift in the future years.
“I believe that in the next five years, particularly in regional cinemas, we will witness a more sophisticated offering to individuals… “It’s more than just popcorn and Pepsi,” he explained.
“I think we’re also going to see more special events films and things.
“We have the potential to show live opera and national theater and other things like that in regional locations, which gives people access to entertainment that they could not otherwise experience.”
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