Local cinema a picture of country town health
ABLOKE in a bar once said there are two things that keep a country town from tumbling over the cliff into oblivion: chooks at the local show and an operating picture theatre.
“Lose them and there goes your town down into the land of the dodo and the Tassie tiger,” said our mate at the bar.
The township of Ingham is a case in point. Still has chooks at the show and the picture theatre, which closed briefly in 2013, is up and running … thanks to the local council and Ingham Disability Support Services.
IDSS took over the theatre when it closed and ever since has been going great guns at making it an integral part of the local community.
Helen Shoubridge is the finance manager for IDSS. She loves movies, live theatre and the arts in general, and has taken on the role of theatre manager. Through sheer exuberance and plenty of “front” when it comes to seeking advice from other independent movie theatre owners – such as Warrina here in Townsville – she is, with the help of a supportive council and a forward- thinking board of directors, reinventing the country picture theatre.
IDSS took it over just as the digital age was sweeping the country, bringing with it massive and costly change to the operation of Australian cinemas. It was either get rid of reel- to- reel and go digital, or go down without a fight.
The cost of converting to digital was huge, well into six figures.
“Andrew Cripps, our local Member, and the council came to the rescue with funding. Our board of directors had the idea to take the cinema over and to use the complex as a place the community could be part of.
“The board wanted to keep the cinema operating. Their attitude was that if you lose the cinema it means the town is dying,” Ms Shoubridge said.
Crucial to all of this is the fact the cinema provides meaningful and fully paid work to clients from IDSS.
The IDSS board is unique in that it operates a cinema and uses it as a place of employment and a job training ground for its disabled clients.
“We have people with disabilities who work here part- time and get real wages in a real job. We’ve had clients go to other jobs from here,” Ms Shoubridge said.
She said that as a young girl growing up in Brisbane she was nuts about the movies. It was the love of cinema that carried her into the role of looking after the cinema for IDSS. But loving movies and running a cinema are two vastly different beasts, and the learning curve in running the business was colossal.
“The Warrina people in Townsville helped us. They gave us advice on what to stock, how to run the cinema and what projectors to use, that sort of thing. Independent cinema operators all help each other out,” she said.
The oft- heard complaint from the independents is about the time lag between them and the major chains getting new releases. The chains usually get first bite of all new releases.
Through its advice channels, Ingham is now securing new movies on the “first run”, the same as the big chains.
“Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation started here the same time as Townsville. Warrina put us on to the programmer who got us connected,” she said.
It all helps put bums on seats. So do other activities such as youth orchestra performances and community events like kindergarten and drought appeal fundraisers.
The IDSS board wants the community to view the theatre as an asset they can use.
Organisations like IDSS can no longer rely on government funding and sponsorship for their survival. Across the board, charities now have to think creatively when it comes to inventing income streams to take the place of an ever- shrinking pool of government funding.
“You can’t be solely reliant on government funding any more. It is harder and harder to access. Now, with our cinema here, every time someone buys something they are putting money back into our organisation. It is not going into someone else’s back pocket. Without that sort of community support, we don’t exist,” she said.
The 263- seat cinema theatre ( there is a 63- seat second cinema upstairs) screens movies every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Tuesday night is pizza night.
“You can bring along a pizza. Thursday night is date night and it doesn’t have to be boy- girl dates,” she said.
They screened Magic Mike, the male stripper movie, a week ago. The packed- out female audience was hanging from the rafters.
“It was a fundraiser for the kindergarten,” Ms Shoubridge said.
Like the chooks at the show, the theatre is a symbol of a well- adjusted, functioning community. The bloke in the bar was right. If the chooks and the cinema go, so does Ingham.
FRONTING UP: Helen Shoubridge says the Ingham picture theatre has become an important part of the community.