The challenges facing the exhibition and education of independent cinema are similar to those before any non-mainstream/commercial arts organisation, be it theatre, music or contemporary dance, writes Gail Cooke.
The huge benefits that we believe our product can give in terms of personal development and life-long learning will never be provided by our mainstream or commercial competitors. Making money is not a bad thing ? we?d like more of it please ? but it is not our only objective.
Multiplex cinemas are starting to absorb excess capacity and overscreening by programming a broader range of films. This is a trend to be encouraged and one of the latest policies developed by the Film Council designed to support and encourage commercial cinemas to be more adventurous in their programming. This trend also throws up a series of challenges for independent cinemas about how to continue to meet audience demand for new and innovative programmes. Most independent cinemas are currently reporting growing attendance for a broader range of programmes. Our cinema is filled with young people eager to experience the latest cult Japanese films from Studio Ghibli or Miike Takeshi. At the Showroom we have seen a phenomenal growth in audiences for documentaries in the past few years which is partly a reflection of the ten years of development work we have undertaken with the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. This year the festival will tour to over 20 cinemas across the UK and audiences are growing. Perhaps the fact that our two top selling films over the past two years have been documentaries is a reflection of that relationship and reputation. To encourage the development of a future audience we established Showcomotion, our festival for children and young people. In 2003 we had record attendance for a challenging programme of independent non-mainstream films. This is our future audience and where our development energies are directed.
It is not only young people that we aim to attract. We are constantly striving to expand our audience base and make everyone feel welcome in our cinema. However, this is not an easy task. People generally feel more comfortable with a brand they can identify with, when they know what to expect. The Warners and Odeons of this world are comfort brands; we have to work hard to build our customer loyalty and to attract first-time attenders. This is particularly true of the socio-economic groups that may feel an arts cinema environment is not for them and that independent film requires a certain level of education to be enjoyed.
Through our schools programme we try to nurture young people and children from an early age to enjoy and learn more about what we do, to grow an audience for the future. We are also developing projects to bring non-traditional audiences into the cinema, targeted to deprived communities and ethnic minorities. The new digital technologies offer opportunities to continue to expand this work by providing low cost ways of broadening the range of films that we can exhibit.
We have a lot more to offer than our main competitors: a nice café bar, special educational events, a loyalty membership scheme, better seats, film notes, an aesthetically pleasing environment and knowledgeable, helpful staff. This holistic package makes independent cinemas unique and different from each other but branding goes a long way in the public psyche. Independent cinemas are growing and flourishing in the UK. With continued support and encouragement from the funding bodies, audiences can be built and much more can be achieved. Let?s try to keep up the good work!
Gail Cooke is Marketing Manager of the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.
t: 0114 276 3534;