Summer has very nearly been and gone for Belmont Filmhouse. In most years, for a cinema that doesn’t rely on the gigantic summer blockbusters that tent pole the rest of the industry, it can often be a slightly slow few months, before audiences start to return in the autumn.
This year we are eagerly awaiting the release of the new James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’ – a film that has a far wider pull than a big summer popcorn shifter. It’s important for multiplexes, but also for much of the arthouse too. It may prove the first real test of audiences’ appetite for a return to cinemas as the pandemic ebbs away. The industry has made strong steps back to normality following re-openings across the UK, but there’s been the absence of a real water-cooler feature to draw people back in large numbers, at pre-pandemic levels.
In preparation, and aligning with audience moods, we’ve been slowly withdrawing some of the social distancing measures we’ve had in place. We’re still cautious, but it feels good. Anticipating more visits we’ve removed some queuing systems and lowered the volume of signage. And we’ve moved from 2m distancing in our cinema screens to 1m, which takes our capacities to between 30-40%, rather than around 15%.
Some measures of course will stay, at least for a little while. We’re unsure when we’ll go back to full capacities as yet – legislation has been removed, but we’re aware some people still have concerns. That’s understandable. We’ll also keep up the extra cleaning and keep asking people who are symptomatic not to visit, among other things.
We’ll also be hanging on to some of what we’ve learned through this pandemic. We’ve learned that not all people are affected equally by pandemics and that not all people will be ready to return to cinemas at the same time. We’ve also learned that we’ve not always been able to reach everyone we’ve wanted to reach during normal operation. We’re trying to make sure how to be accessible for them in future.
Like most arts’ organisations our digital footprint swelled during the pandemic as we tried to find other ways to speak to people. More communication going through social media and print to our audience and members, more focus on our website and the addition of our own streaming channel. Feedback has been good and we’ve been told that some of that focus on digital should stay. For some it can be far more inclusive.
As we emerge from what has been a gentle summer, where we’ve managed to get a foothold on the basics of operation again, we’ll be continuing to direct people to what has become like a fourth screen for us – Filmhouse At Home Filmhouse at Home | Filmhouse (filmhousecinema.com). An accessible, digital and reasonably priced streaming service, where we put a selection of our favourite films which we’ve shown in the cinemas, for those who may yet feel unready to return. We also screen hugely ambitious projects, like this gigantic Mark Cousins collection, one of our favourite directors and a patron of Filmhouse Filmhouse | The Ultimate Mark Cousins Collection (filmhouseathome.com)