By conventional wisdom, Netflix and the rise of online movie streaming has been a bad thing for cinemas. Several articles have been written about the subject, with increasingly pessimistic headlines like “How Netflix Became Hollywood’s Frenemy”, “Theatre Owners To Netflix: You’re The One Trying To Kill Cinema” and “Netflix and Kill”.
But despite this doom mongering, cinemas are still alive and kicking. In fact, independent cinemas (the ones which were more vulnerable to closure due to a lack of corporate backing) are thriving.
A recent article in the Mirror has highlighted that now one in four cinemas in the UK are independent, even though many of them were on the brink of collapse just five years ago. Rather than rolling over and dying, independent cinemas have adapted to the post-streaming market place in savvy and exciting ways, making the most of everything they can offer that a laptop screen can’t. This raises the question: instead of killing them, did Netflix save independent cinemas?
Independent theatres are restoring the glamour to cinema
The same Mirror article also credits the renewed public interest in old picture houses, which are often independently owned, to the success of not-quite-Best Picture-winner La La Land. That film’s old school Hollywood charm almost demands that it be seen in a classic, glamorous cinema of old, dressed up in your fanciest clothes.
Brighton’s Duke of York Picturehouse cinema, for example, is the UK’s oldest purpose-built film theatre, so it undoubtedly offers a window back into the glory days of cinema. But more modern independent cinemas are upping the glamour factor too. For example, The Sussex Exchange is a small independent cinema in Hastings with modern luxury facilities and an adjacent gourmet kitchen. The BFI’s Southbank cinema complex, too, is modern in its appearance, though its main screen is as classic and glamorous as any theatre.
This commitment to the fancy side of cinema offers film fans something that Netflix just can’t, and makes going to the cinema an all-encompassing experience that cannot be replicated on the sofa.
Indie cinemas are doing “event cinema”
Using luxury facilities is not the only way independent cinemas are turning their screenings into reasons to leave the couch. The other effective method they are using to draw people back to the cinema is putting on “event” showings of films.
Before home video, independent repertory cinemas were the only places the public could go back and watch their old favourites, or see the latest obscure foreign films. But since so many old films are available online, and many brand new indie movies debut or appear quite quickly on streaming websites, independent cinemas are presented with a problem. The savviest independent cinemas have addressed this through turning their screenings into “events”. These can be anything from themed movie marathons, such as the Prince Charles Cinema’s frequent Disney Pyjama Parties, or Q&As with filmmakers, like those that regularly take place at the BFI Southbank.
Some are doing “event cinema” on an even larger scale. The Secret Cinema, for example, is an independent events company that creates “secret worlds” themed around classic movies, such as the Star Wars Death Star or the titular hotel from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and has actors perform sections of the film in front of the screen for a fully immersive experience.
Will these approaches save independent cinema forever?
At the moment, independent cinemas are doing well with these tactics, but online streaming is still new, and still very much expanding. Could the Netflix naysayers eventually be proven right?
It is certainly possible. Warner Brothers is said to be pushing “aggressively” to make major film releases arrive on streaming platforms early. According to reporting from Variety, one idea from the studio involves splitting profits for these early online rentals with participating cinema chains.
Initiatives like this seem to discourage cinemas from even trying to attract customers, which, if anything, could make luxurious and event-driven independent cinemas seem even more appealing to film fans.
The continued success of innovative independent cinemas in the face of online streaming bodes well for the future. Ever since the dawn of home video, the industry has constantly feared its demise. Netflix and its ilk may be new and high tech, but there’s no reason to believe they will make cinemas redundant, especially with independent cinemas reminding filmgoers of the joy of going to the movies.