Good Causes

Keeping the silver screens shining

The lockdown dealt a cruel blow to every movie theatre in the UK, but for Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema the sudden loss of income almost proved fatal.

The Jam Jar had opened its third screen in late 2019 and business was booming. In January 2020 a record 8,000 customers watched the independent cinema’s mixture of Hollywood blockbusters, independent British films and World Cinema titles.

Admissions fell in February as people became more wary of coronavirus, then halted completely in March when the UK’s 800 cinemas were ordered to close their doors.

The Jam Jar’s founder Dan Ellis said, “We had taken on quite a lot of debt to fund the expansion of the cinema and found ourselves in a very precarious situation. It started to feel really scary when you have no income and you have no idea when the doors will reopen.”

The end credits might have rolled for the Jam Jar were it not for the British Film Institute (BFI). It responded to the coronavirus by repurposing more than £4.6Million of National Lottery funding to help every part of the British film business. Money from one of the BFI’s emergency funds – the £1.3Million Covid-19 Resilience Fund – helped the Jam Jar pay rent, insurance and electricity bills and retain some of its dedicated staff.

Dan said, “We were very fortunate to get funded – it helped us survive. Without it we wouldn’t be open now.”

National Lottery funding also helped the Jam Jar Cinema prepare for its post-lockdown reopening on the 31st July. The money paid for adjustments to the building to ensure social distancing and training for its staff to keep customers safe.

The number of people who can watch movies in its 3 screening rooms has been slashed from a maximum of 110 to just 36. It has cut 4 screenings from its daily schedule to give staff more time to clean the building and customers more time to leave.

Dan said, “We’ve had more than 1,500 admissions in August, which is much lower than usual, but amazing given everything that’s gone on. The people who have come back are looking for a little bit of joy and a little bit of normality.”

Ben Luxton, the BFI’s Head of UK Audiences, said cinemas in the UK were losing an estimated £5Million a day in the early part of the lockdown. He added, “It’s a huge loss and it will take a long time to build back.”

But Ben is confident cinemas like the Jam Jar – as well as film festivals, film distributors and the talented people who make British films – will bounce back, in many cases stronger than ever. He said, “There are a lot of things we’ve learned from this period that we can build on. We’re determined to ensure film culture remains an important part of life.”

22nd September 2020

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