General manager Walter Francisco admits he can hardly contain his excitement: “It has been 209 days and it feels like it!
“It has been hugely frustrating. I can’t wait for the thrill of seeing people coming through the door, keen to see something new… and people coming out with smiles on their faces or discussing what they have just seen.”
Walter had been hoping the cinema would be able to reopen at the start of September: “But the board didn’t feel comfortable with that. We have got a couple of things that make us quite different in that we are within the New Park Centre. We don’t just have to follow the cinema guidelines; we have got to follow the centre’s guidelines as well. They need to keep all the different groups away from each other, to keep us away from the people doing painting and to keep us away from the people doing martial arts and so on, so with all the considerations it was felt that reopening on September 4 was a bit early.
“So we have come up with a good balance. It means that we have had a little bit more time to get everything in place. We have got training sessions for our volunteers. We have got 80-90 volunteers, and we have got 70 of them that are coming to do the training. Only those that have done the training can come in as ushers so that they know exactly what they can do, where to put people and all the safety guidelines. With that in place, with all the PPE in place, with all the training in place, with a new layout in place, this was the better date.”
Usually the cinema can take 115 people; if people come in pairs, then the cinema should be able to accommodate 56 people – though generally ten to 20 per cent of people do come alone.
“We need 40 people to break even, but we are prepared to operate at a small loss if we have to. We are just wanting to get things going. If we don’t open, we will be losing a lot more. It is our aim to keep our staff… so 40 people per screening is our target, and that should be possible when you think that this time last year we would be getting 80 or 90 people or sell-outs. I think it is possible. I am always bumping into people saying that they are wanting to know when they can come back.
“Our first two weeks we will be showing some films that have just come out that we were not able to show, stuff like Tenet, and also we will be showing some of the things we had programmed back in March and early April that we had sold tickets for, like Portrait of a Lady on Fire. We are also showing Parasite again. And things like Military Wives. And we have also got from week three in our new season the French Film Festival UK. We are going to screen nine films over five weeks, a lot of brand-new films.
“And we will have some performance events. We won’t be having any live events, but we will have things like Present Laughter from the National Theatre and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe from the O2.”
Walter says he always knew that the day would come: “I never thought that we wouldn’t reopen. I always thought that we would come back stronger – even when things were at their worst in April and May, especially in April. I was always planning ahead. I was always clinging to the positive and hoping for the best.”
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