Picture houses reopen on Wednesday so what can we expect?
IT takes a lot to shutter the muchloved institution that is the Glasgow Film Theatre. It opened as the Cosmo, a few months before the Second World War, and it was closed briefly during the Clydebank Blitz, but otherwise it has remained open all that time. Until recently, that is. Like every other cinema in the UK, the arthouse GFT went dark as a result of the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Last week it announced that it would finally re-open, on Monday, August 31. Its loyal customer base could not be happier. “I think I will take the day off and spend it in the GFT”, wrote one fan on Twitter. “I’ve missed you so much”, wrote another.
Cinemas across Scotland will be reopening from July 15 but the GFT is determined to take its time and make sure everything is in place.
In common with every other cinema, whether an independent or part of a large chain, such as Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, the GFT will re-emerge with strict social-distancing guidelines in place. Measures already announced by the big chains include staggered screen times, social-distancing seating, and hand sanitisers and gels at stations.
The GFT’s screens will have only around 20 per cent capacity, so as to permit essential spacing between customers. This will, at least in the short to medium term, add to the GFT’s problems. Like every other picture house, it has suffered greatly during the lockdown.
“For the past months we have had no income from ticket sales, venue hires or our bar, which collectively amounts to sixty per cent of our revenue”, says Allison Gardner, Glasgow Film CEO, who is pictured right.
“Safeguarding jobs has and will remain a priority going forward, and we have paid our permanent staff 100 per cent of their wages during the closure period.
“Whilst re-opening is a big step in the right direction, we are aware that there is a long road ahead until the cinema is able to operate at full capacity,” she added.
“As a not-for-profit educational charity, all of our income is reinvested into our programming and access initiatives to create Cinema For All. This will be perhaps the biggest challenge we have faced as an organisation, but it is one we intend to tackle with passion and determination, and we know that our loyal audience will continue to support us.”
It helps, in a way, that summer is traditionally a quiet period for the GFT. This gives it time to co-ordinate with other independents and with distributors to re-open at the end of next month.
had been furloughed. So it is great to get a date and then work towards it”.
The reduced-capacity aspect is something that customers will become accustomed to; Allison believes that most are already used to the “new normal” in terms of social distancing, and the plans that establishments like the GFT have to put in place.
“As things begin to reopen, such as beer gardens, people are getting into the swing of the correct procedures and by the time we re-open on August 31 people will have become much more attuned to that sort of behaviour”.
AN easy solution, in view of the fact that there will be fewer customers and thus less income, would be to increase the number of screenings of a specific film. But things are not as straightforward as that.
“Possibly not,” Allison says when asked about extra screenings, “because what we are keen on are the cleaning times inbetween screenings. We have to build in more cleaning time while making sure that customers exit and enter safely, and avoid any bottlenecks.
“So there will probably be fewer screenings, because there’s less capacity initially. But I’ll be keen to see how it works and I’ll be here on the opening Monday, to keep an eye on things”.
The safety and comfort of staff, volunteers and audience are of paramount importance in the planning, she added. “We’re working with our staff to devise a safe operating plan in accordance with the guidance provided by the UK Cinema Association. Our safe operating plan measures will be shared with audiences to reassure them of the actions we are taking”.
She is under no illusions that things will be difficult for the GFT. “But we are in a very good position, because we have been here since 1939. This is the longest period we have ever been closed – we were, I think, closed for a week because of the Clydebank bombings.
“But we are very lucky in that we have a super-loyal audience. That has taken a lot of work over the years by the team. That loyalty, the fact that people know we are a not-for-profit charity, and put the money back into our community, and all the work we do around equality, diversity and inclusion – all of that stands in our favour.
“I hope that more people will realise how great ‘local’ stuff is after this. The GFT is Glasgow’s neighbourhood cinema, after all.”
The cinema could also benefit from the VAT cut and a £97 million support package intended to protect Scottish cultural venues from closure: it’s the country’s share of a £1.57bn fund set up by the UK Government. The Scottish Government has announced a separate £10m fund for arts venues which cannot yet reopen. To help secure its future over “this next crucial period”, the GFT is asking customers to donate £20, or
Clockwise from left: GFT boss Allison Gardner; The Greatest Showman; and Avatar. Both movies were popular choices among film fans to return to the big screen