As Cornwall’s booming cinema industry hangs on the edge of extinction, the Phoenix cinema in Falmouth is fighting back and hoping to rise from the ashes.
The cinema is no longer just a place for film buffs to marvel at the constantly improving picture and sound quality of movies. It is a place where you can go for an evening out with a group of friends, a date or even your family; and it doesn’t even need to be a film that you are eager to watch. It has become a social establishment, such as a pub – minus the drinking – to be enjoyed by a local community.
Unfortunately a construction plan could be put in place which, if passed, could lead to the closure of most of the local cinemas around Cornwall, mainly the ones owned by Merlin Cinemas.
The plan, which was brought up back in December 2013, is to build another ASDA supermarket and a CINEWORLD multi-screen complex in Pool near Redruth, that will consist of various restaurants and retail units. Obviously the building of the multi-screen cinema will cause heavy damage to local cinemas, due to the large competition that will be created. However more competition is the last of the worries that is on the mind of the Merlin Cinemas, as it turns out that film priority from production companies will go straight to the multi-screen.
“The multi-plex will want to forge their own identity.”
One cinema that will be hugely affecting by this plan is the Phoenix picture house in Falmouth, and when talking to manager Alex Jones, who was clearly eager to get his opinion across, the threat of the multi-screen becomes much clearer. Mr. Jones explains how a lot of customers come from outside the area, so they have to travel far anyway, “A lot of people think it won’t mean an awful lot to us because we’re quite far away from where the development is going to be, but currently an awful lot of people come from outside the area to Falmouth so it is relatively possible that they will just turn the car around the other way and go into a different direction.” He goes onto explain how the multi-screen will not only take away customers, but also the films themselves. “We suddenly will have difficulty getting new releases here, as the multi-plex will want to forge their own identity, and suddenly the film companies will probably say ‘you can play it in Falmouth but not until it’s about 3 or 4 weeks old’, and so by default people travel from Falmouth to there if they want to see X-Men which is in at the moment. It’s only going to be at the multi-plex, we can tell people ‘it’ll be here in 3 or 4 weeks time’, but they want to see it now.” By giving the multi-screen priority over the newly released films, the local cinemas just won’t get their business because by the time the films do arrive at somewhere like the Phoenix, they will have already been out for a month or maybe more.
Although this may just come across as the film companies trying to make more money for the bigger cinema organisations, the truth underneath is much darker than you would have thought as this idea of not giving local/small cinemas films at their actual time of release is an illegal act. “It has been legally outlawed that it goes on, and they use different reasons, like we haven’t got enough copies to go around, and of course it’s a hard answer for us to argue against because we don’t know how many copies they produce.”
The plan, which was put into place by Salmon Harvestor Properties Limited, is set to get started in 2014. In a statement to the West Briton in December 2013 from Rorie Henderson, who is the development director at Salmon Harvestor, it has been revealed that the plans for the multi-screen have been in talks for a while. “The scheme has been in limbo for about 18 months or so, but it’s as confirmed as can be. The next nine months to a year will be spent putting forward a major planning application for the site.” The chairman of Carn Brea Leisure Centre Trust, Colin Rowe, also voiced their optimism for the project, “We look very forward to working with them on the next steps of a project that enables the leisure centre to be transformed and the facility to be secured for the benefit of the community long-term.” Although the Leisure Centre Trust are putting a lot of thought into the community, the thoughts of Cornwall’s local cinema trade seems to be going out the window.
“They wanted for so long a cinema to come back to Falmouth.”
If there isn’t an uproar then we could very easily see our local cinema lifestyle crumble. Thankfully Merlin Cinemas have started a campaign called the ‘Save Our Cinemas’ campaign, in an aid to gather enough signatures that town council’s will put their word in to stop the plans for the multi-screen in Looe. It seems that it isn’t just the owners and employees at the cinemas that are supporting this campaign, and it is coming quite close to there being a talk about scrapping the plans. As Mr. Jones explains “Of course we’re running it across all our cinemas, but here in Falmouth it’s being massively supported. Through the cinemas altogether we’ve got 14,000 signatures against it at the moment. And you only need 5,000 to trigger a debate, we’re well above that.” Mr. Jones seems positive about the reaction from cinema goers and Falmouth town council, “The town council have been addressed by the managing director here as well, they’re all unanimously in favour of being against it.
The cinema industry has been an odd one throughout the past century, with attendance constantly going up and down. During the war-era of the 1930s and 40s the attendance of customers in picture houses in the UK was at the highest it had ever been; and has ever been since. Peaking at 1.46 billion admissions in 1946, according to economicshelp.org. Perhaps this was because people needed some form of escapism from the terrors of the war that raged on outside. However through the 1950s, 60s and 70s there was a gradual decrease in the attendance of cinema patrons, and the industry was swept aside. Then the mid 1980s saw the industry begin to get back on its feet, and it has been constantly on rise ever since. With this rise more and more cinemas began to pop up all over the country, and Mr. Jones explains how now local cinemas are a vital part to any community, “It’s grown in vitality in the last 10 years, they like to come out to the cinema again, they like to come and see the big-screen experience, not just films but also live shows from London, so the experience now is massive. It’s not just teens and families, it’s older people as well who will have deserted cinemas in the 1960s and 70s coming back in droves, and they love it. So for the community it’s hugely important, because even if we suddenly close, I can’t see a hundred percent of all our business going to the multi-plex.
“We’ve opened it up ourselves and brought all the people back.”
In a way it has become a kind of vicious cycle for the cinema industry and especially local cinemas such as the Phoenix, which was awarded the best independent cinema in the UK in their opening year by RAAM (national cinema awards). With the industry beginning to gain momentum once again, cinemas began to pop up in towns all over Cornwall, and the big companies saw this and have decided to make a multi-plex to get in on some of the action, hence the vicious cycle.
“There wasn’t a cinema in Falmouth for over 20 years, and we’ve only been here for 5 years. If it wasn’t for us opening cinemas like this, there’s no way a multi-plex would even look to Cornwall, they’ve seen what we’re doing and thought ‘aha, we’ll have a slice of that’. We’ve opened it up ourselves and brought all the people back.” Alex Jones ends on a rather grim note, as he realises that because cinemas like the Phoenix have brought the industry back to its feet, their own accomplishments could be their downfall.
With the ‘Save Our Cinemas’ campaign signatures greatly surpassing the cause for concern mark of 5,000, and Falmouth’s town council being anonymously behind the campaign, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel yet. These cinemas are a vital part to any community, and to lose one of them would be to lose apart of your town.
For more information on the ‘Save Our Cinemas’ campaign visit the Merlin cinemas website at merlincinemas.co.uk. Or head down to your local, or closest, Merlin cinema to sign the petition and pick up a leaflet.