‘If cinema doesn’t survive, the Tories will have shattered a diamond of culture’
Tom Houlton, 27, actor, Suffolk
I have been a Cineworld Unlimited customer for 10 years and I go to the cinema around three to five times a week. It is my favourite pastime and a big part of my life. Cineworld has done its best: tried to show old and new films again to bring people back, as well as Tenet 10 times a day.
The current situation isn’t their fault – it’s the government’s, and people should be pointing the finger much more. They scared everyone away, told people not to hang out with people they don’t live with – unless it’s in restaurants or bars, because that’s somehow OK. If cinema does not survive this the Tories will have shattered a diamond of culture.
‘I’m isolated, autistic, under pressure, and was relying on the local Picturehouse to keep me sane’
Ella Catherall, 20, student, Cambridge
I’ve just moved back into university accommodation and begun the final year of my degree – and I know I’ll have no in-person teaching. So I was relying on trips to the local Picturehouse to keep me sane this term, as well as their cafe as a relatively quiet place in which to work.
I’m autistic so my mental health is precarious at the best of times. I’m also isolated, away from family during a pandemic and about to embark on my finals. Cinema had been one of my constants and a real refuge. To have that taken away right now really sucks.
‘I’d feel awful if my parents died because I just had to see Tenet’
I love the cinema – it truly brings me joy. “Escapism” sells the experience short; I feel alive and engaged when lost in a narrative that is not my own. I used to see about three films a week, but I think I’ve seen about three films since March because watching them at home just doesn’t come close and I haven’t been back since the cinemas reopened as it doesn’t feel like the responsible thing to do. Covid is meant to spread best in an enclosed environment and I’d feel proper shit if I caught it and ended up giving it to my parents and they then died because I just had to see Tenet.
‘We’ll probably never return to the city centre in the evening again’
Caroline Lewis, 67, retired delicatessen owner, York
For me, cinema offered a weekly chance to be entertained, enlightened and challenged. We’ve been a few times to almost empty screenings over the past few months, but the atmosphere has been lacking (as well as the smell of popcorn and rustling of sweet wrappers, which I don’t miss).
And now our local, the York City Screen, part of the Picturehouse chain, is to close. That’s another nail in the coffin for the city centre. We’ll probably never go there in the evening again. We would nearly always eat out after the screening – so again, more lost business. The Everyman in York remains open (though for how long is anyone’s guess) but the screens are so small you might as well be at home, and the choice of films is normally more mainstream.
Apparently Cineworld’s closure is temporary but unless the government steps in with some financial help, I’m not sure I can see the City Screen reopening. The restrictions imposed on cinemas, in comparison with restaurants and pubs, have simply made them unviable.
The problem is not just that cinemas have been unfairly penalised, which I believe they have, but that the big film companies are not going to release their blockbusters this year and even if they were, the students are being locked down.
‘We were an audience of two. Weird, and sad’
Charles Milne, 67, retired teacher, Herefordshire
Covid has shrunk our world and restricted most of us to our immediate locality. Films are a wonderful means of escape, of being transported for a couple of hours to other places and into other lives. I miss sitting in that darkened space where your vision is entirely focused on what you see on the screen in front of you.
This is how films were designed to be seen, not streamed to our TVs or watched on DVDs in our domestic settings. There’s something rather special about that darkened isolation in the cinema. It’s both a profoundly individual and a communal experience.
My nearest cinema is in Hay-on-Wye: it’s a terrific venue, but so small (about 50 seats) that with social distancing it’s not financially viable to open it. In this border town the cinema plays an important social role, too: friends come into town from neighbouring villages, watch a film and then pop across the road to a great little tapas bar afterwards.
I went to London a few weeks ago, met up with a friend for brunch and then popped into a cinema to watch Hope Gap. We were an audience of two. Weird, and sad.
‘I like sliding down in my seat in fear and that doesn’t happen when I’m distracted by the dog’
One of the only things I did socially before this pandemic was go to the cinema, so I can’t imagine a world without it.
My local for many years was a real dive, which smelled of damp and had a serious draught and an actual light-switch on the wall someone would have to flick off once the film started. People will put up with a lot just to enjoy the community of others and the excitement of a new release.
I don’t enjoy watching films at home (especially not when it’s via a Netflix party or Skype call with a friend) nearly as much. I’m a sci-fi and horror fan, which are both far more impactful on the big screen. I like sliding down in my seat in fear and I just don’t find that happens when I’m easily distracted by the dog.
The purpose of film is to transport you to a different world, and that’s almost impossible on your sofa. I was really looking forward to Candyman and I’m gutted that it isn’t being released this year. Cinema hasn’t been reinvented in the way I’d hoped it might; it’s just been taken away.
‘Precautions have changed the experience into something that’s harder work’
Liam, 26, graphic designer and former cinema employee, Blackpool
There’s nothing better than sharing laughter, suspense or heartbreak with a room full of like-minded individuals. Even if you don’t know them, an audience can really amplify your connection to a story. I was at a sold-out screening of Uncut Gems in January at Manchester Home, and it was easily one of my favourite cinemagoing experiences ever. One person actually jumped out of their seat with excitement during the final act. Lots of my friends saw the film on Netflix after I raved to them about it, but few came away with the same sense of investment in the story.
I wish cinemagoing had been easier over the past couple of months. Safety precautions and social consciousness have changed the cinemagoing experience into something that’s harder work than the usual escapism. Still, the times I have been did offer a much-needed break. Having a place to go outside the confines of the home, or the same daily trip to the local shops, has benefited me greatly. Now, that sense of progress towards normalcy is halted.
‘I’m not sure there is a great future for cinemas, pandemic or not’
After living in Africa all of my working life, one of the great pleasures of being retired in the UK has been the ability to go to the cinema frequently and see a wide variety of new releases.
I find watching films can be intellectually stimulating, sometimes informative, other times inspiring. In most cases, it’s an enjoyable experience and a form of escapism. Most of that is not lost when I watch a film at home, so although there are many reasons I would choose to go to the cinema rather than watch a film at home, I do not feel the loss of cinemas by any means equates with the loss of film watching.
My children – in their 30s – don’t understand my passion for the cinema and are just as happy watching films at home. So I understand why cinemas were struggling even before the pandemic. When we lose cinemas we don’t lose film watching, and I’m therefore not sure there is a great future for cinemas, pandemic or not.
When a community loses its cinema, it’s a shame for those of us who enjoy it, but I don’t imagine it’s any worse for a community than losing other amenities that are enjoyed by others.
‘When the new James Bond finally opens cinemagoers should boycott it’
My daughter works at our local Odeon while at university and now it’s closing every day until further notice. She has also been told that job losses are inevitable. Luckily she lives at home but unfortunately some staff aren’t so lucky and will have bills to pay and families to feed.
I think when these big blockbusters like the new James Bond finally open cinemagoers should boycott them. The greed of the studios in delaying releases and prompting cinemas to close has caused financial hardship for thousands of families. Without cinema there will be no film industry.
‘Reopened cinemas felt like classical music concerts during wartime’
Stephen Woods, 53, property developer, London
When schools and cinemas reopened, I felt we were coming out of lockdown. For me, the movies are a release, where I go to switch off from the problems of the world. I choose the front row so as not to be disturbed by anyone and typically go during the day when screens are quieter. I enjoy even mediocre films because it’s that experience I most crave. In a typical week, I go three or four times, and although I usually go alone, cinema is the cornerstone of my social life (I’m not a big pub-goer).
When the doors were still open, it was a reminder of a time before the pandemic, perhaps akin to the classical concerts put on during wartime. Cinema brings hope, inspires and opens our minds in a way laptops cannot. It’s a key morale-booster; the closures are a major step back into the dark days.
‘Cineworld was my lifeline for four years’
Cineworld was my lifeline for four years, as I supported my partner through a long depression. Staff were smart and friendly and helpful. Everything was so clean and there was so much choice. Some films were fabulously well-attended and lots of people laughed together at the right bits. We even had singalongs. On our final trip, we saw a movie tonight about a boxer’s final fight. Felt apt.
‘Cineworld want to make sure staff don’t flake out from coronavirus before the doors are shut’
My partner has worked for Cineworld for more than a decade. There is still no clear information about what will happen to his and his colleagues’ jobs and income. The company is clearly making this decision strategically, in the interest of making sure that staff don’t flake out from coronavirus before the doors are shut.
The cinema my partner worked at is particularly important as a hub for elderly and vulnerable people. As winter comes in, loneliness will only increase as individuals and communities become more and more isolated.