Independent cinema operators have renewed their calls for Federal Government support, with the launch of a new campaign designed to secure more funding in the lead up to Christmas.
Independent Cinemas Australia (ICA) began 12 Days of Christmas Cinema on Sunday, urging the government to distribute the remainder of the Supporting Cinemas’ Retention Endurance and Enhancement of Neighbourhoods (SCREEN) Fund before applications close on December 24.
Announced in March, the $20 million fund was set up to assist independent cinema operators who have experienced significant declines in revenue, with one-off business continuity grants of $35,000, $60,000, or $85,000 available, depending on the amount of revenue reported.
As of December 1, the fund had provided 193 grants totalling $10.23 million.
ICA CEO Adrianne Pecotic said the full amount was needed to cover the impact of the Delta outbreak, vaccine rollout delays, prolonged lockdowns and consequent disruptions to movie supplies that had occured since the fund was announced.
“I am shocked at the apparent disregard by the Federal Government for commitments made to small cinema businesses and the Australian moviegoing public,” she said.
“For months now we have been telling the government that independent cinemas urgently need the full support promised them back in March 2021.
“Many cinema businesses have closed permanently and now Adelaide will lose its last remaining drive-in.
“How many more cinemas need to close before the government backs its original decision, stays the distance, and keeps local community cinemas open long enough to get back on their feet?”
While strong results for blockbusters such as Godzilla vs Kong and F9 gave exhibitors hope for a steady recovery in the first half of the year, subsequent lockdowns across the country, the longest of which were experienced in Sydney and Melbourne, have affected released schedules and caused further losses to be incurred.
ICA president and owner of Scotty’s Cinemas Raymond Terrace and Heddon Greta Drive-in Scott Seddon said independent cinemas were only just starting to get back on their feet after months trading at well below pre-pandemic levels.
“Revenue is still 55 per cent down on top of businesses facing increased costs to operate COVID-safe premises, no cashflow reserves and obligations for huge payback of debt including bank loans and almost two years of rent arrears.
“Those losses can’t be recovered overnight.”
However, the office of Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher has since announced that $9 million from the fund will be reallocated to the COVID-19 Arts Sustainability Fund.*
“The SCREEN Fund was designed to provide one-off grants to support independent cinema sites which were dealing with the effects of COVID-19 on their business continuity, particularly the problem that distributors were not releasing Hollywood movies to cinemas in Australia,” he said.
Palace Cinemas CEO Benjamin Zeccola agreed there was hope on the horizon, but said ongoing support was required to see venues return to their former glory.
“The good news is that the big movies are back, patrons are keen to return to their local cinemas and most local MPs appreciate the social and cultural importance of the local cinema in their community,” he said,
“Given enough time, and the help the government promised, these businesses will be fully recovered and operating to entertain and delight communities all over Australia.”