The following post contains advice for community venues who are either planning future screenings or looking to restart their film nights afresh in the new year. As guidance is rapidly changing by area, we strongly suggest that you consult your local government website (England/Scotland/Wales) to view up-to-date information on legal requirements with regards to COVID-secure environments.

With the constantly shifting guidance issued by various local governments, many cinema chains have reduced their opening hours and closed their doors entirely. Coupled with a reduction in ‘new’ titles available to screen, many operators have been reduced to showing classics or aiming for younger audiences. Recent films, such as Christopher Nolan’s TENET, may have financially fared less favourably than during regular service, but there are still many films being screened in smaller venues across the UK – including Moviola venues – who are still open for your patrons to visit in a COVID-secure environment.

Here at mini-Moviola HQ, we’ve visited several cinemas over the last few months and have been assured by the measures in place to make audiences feel both welcome and safe. While we realise that this may not be the case for vulnerable people, there are still communities who are willing to visit cinemas to enjoy some big screen entertainment. Over the summer, a handful of our venues dipped their toes into the outdoor screening arena, with musicals such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Moulin Rouge screening at Capel – switching their usual venue for a pub garden and taking their audiences with them for some communal fun.

As the nights draw in, the opportunity is still there to do something different – and we would argue that with the closure of the usual haunts, a larger potential audience exists outside that of which community cinemas traditionally cater to. From the box office numbers, it seems that content which appeals to younger, and more adventurous, audiences have fared extremely well; Sarah Gavron (Suffragette) screened her latest teen-focussed ROCKS to wide audiences at the start of October, AFTER WE COLLIDED brought young romance to the masses (and is still doing decent business as we type), and British metaphysical horror, SAINT MAUD, is an astounding debut feature, taking a realist look at a carer with a dark past and a demanding patient.

So, should community cinemas suddenly shun their existing audiences in favour of programming solely adventurous and ‘out-there’ films?

Of course not, but the opportunity is there to mix up your offerings to capture some of the cinemagoers who have nowhere else to go, and it bears thinking that in this climate, audiences have changed for the future.

While loyal community cinema audiences may be staying in with a cup of tea, the onus is on venues, who are able to open safely, to concentrate their efforts in harnessing those members of the public who have never been to a community cinema – where in the past, a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude may have sufficed; it just won’t work at this moment in time.

Make no mistake, there’s a little effort involved (and as always, as part of Moviola, we are here to help you) to reach this new congregation through means that may seem daunting at first. If there’s one thing we’ve discovered about the current situation, it’s that everyone has had to adapt to advancing technology – whether you’re now ‘Zooming’ or using streaming services for the first time, many of us have been brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century with contactless payments and other novelties.

Perhaps your cinema could set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account or which you can link to other local groups to raise awareness of your screenings. Have you considered online ticketing? Could you purchase a card reader for your box office to reduce the contact with physical cash? Other means may involve a newsletter, paid advertising to entice ready audiences to your film nights. Another easy win may simply involve earlier screenings as we approach darker evenings, enabling your patrons to get home more easily.

Many of our venues are already taking the approach of a matinee/early evening screening as an addition to their usual timeslots – a measure that won’t cost any additional licence fees as long as the screening takes places on the same day as your other ones.

As a network dedicated to helping community cinemas screen films, we want to help you in any way we can. The last 9 months have been challenging for everyone, no more so than the frustration of changing guidance for pre-planned events.

Rest assured, we are here to clarify and point you in the direction of resources that can help keep your audiences engaged during this rugged time – if you require any assistance, please use our contact page to get in touch.