Chichester Cinema at New Park remains confident amid lockdown

Chichester Cinema at New Park is once again enduring the lockdown limbo with optimism, buoyed up once again by the generous support of its frustrated cinema-goers.
Cinema director and programmer Walter FranciscoCinema director and programmer Walter Francisco
Cinema director and programmer Walter Francisco

Since the first lockdown last March, the cinema has managed just four and a half weeks of opening.

But on the plus side, at least it has learnt just how well-loved it is within the community.

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Cinema director and programmer Walter Francisco said: “We have always said in our shout-outs how good our patrons are, and I know they are good, but we are really seeing it, and it is not just the physical donations, it is also the constant stream of positive comments.”

Significant numbers of people have been renewing their membership of the cinema – despite there being no films to see in a shut cinema.

Understandably, some people haven’t renewed: “And I put myself in their shoes. What would I do? I am not loaded. If I have got all these memberships coming in and there is nothing coming in, I am not going to be able to renew them all. But a lot of people have been renewing with us, and that has been great.”

All the same, this latest lockdown feels different, Walter admits – a different kind of limbo: “The big difference is that last time, I was programming all the time. We closed in March and we thought we might be open in May and then June and July and August so there were always different versions of the programme that I was doing.”

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This time, however, there are no new films coming through and it is all feeling rather more open-ended. Instead, Walter is keeping an eye on some of the films that have gone straight to Netflix instead, films – such as The Dig – which he reckons would be “perfect New Park films.”

Walter will be working with the distributors to see which ones might be possible to screen in a cinema despite an earlier streaming release: “There will probably be different types of regulations about screening them, the amount of time, the rates and so on, but we will see what we can do.

“But I am patient, and that helps. There might be some people who would be chewing their nails off, but I am not.”

The cinema is also working on securing support funding from the government, distributed through the BFI: “They had the first part (of the initiative) in the summer and this is the second part.

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“We didn’t apply for the first part. We had good reserves and we would not have been eligible in the summer, but we don’t know how long this is going to last. It would be handy to have some money through the funding this time round.

“If we don’t get it, we should still have a little bit of reserves. The cinema isn’t going to be closing, but it would still be handy.”

Walter’s best guess is that the cinema could be opening at the end of March at the absolute earliest, but he feels perhaps May is probably more likely. Key will be the extension of the furlough scheme if need be, Walter feels.

In the meantime, the cinema is getting a great response to its Cinema in a Box initiative which currently takes film to seven care homes in the area.

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“It gives a bit of joy and fun to people. Some of them have not been out since March last year.

“It is something that we are going to be continuing with.”