‘Flock back to the flicks’ is call from Oban cinema

Jennie Larney, general manager of the Oban Phoenix Cinema

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Film fans are being urged to ‘flock back to the flicks’ as the Phoenix Cinema in Oban prepares to welcome back the public.

The independent community cinema closed on March 21 due to the virus but is hoping to reopen on August 24 after more than five months.

Eight years ago, the historic George Street venue reopened having been shut for two years between 2010-12 – leaving film fans with a long trip to Glasgow to see a movie.

Unlike the major multiplexes, it was saved by a community buy-out and is now overseen by a volunteer six-member executive board, 10 staff, 10 loyal volunteers and local fundraisers.

The coronavirus arrived on the back of an ‘amazing, record year’ for the two-screen cinema in 2019.

Close to 39,000 tickets were sold – around 30 per cent up – and the range of films on offer – was among the most diverse it has shown.

While it receives vital backing from organisations including the British Film Institute (BFI) and Creative Scotland, general manager Jennie Larney has also issued a rallying cry.

‘Come back,’ she appealed. ‘Come back to your local cinema – it’s safe, it’s local, you can be with your family, watch a great film and it’s a day out when we don’t all have to stay inside anymore! We will ensure it’s as absolutely safe as it can be – and that’s the message we want to get out to people – it’s safe to come to your lovely, local cinema.’

The premises will undergo deep cleans after each showing using specially-purchased equipment. A one-way entry and exit system will be introduced and people will be encouraged not to leave behind drinks and food containers after their visit.

Hand sanitiser stations are to be introduced along with protective screens for staff.

Staff are also being trained in how to operate in a post-Covid environment and a range of internal changes are to be made with cinema-goers separated with empty seats. The move reduces the capacity of screen one from 148 to just 40.

In screen two, a ‘bubble system’ will operate, again reducing the 22-seat capacity.

Asked if the changes leave a question mark over its future, manager Jennie does not believe so, as it rarely sold out its capacity in any event.

She added: ‘The cinema industry is very small and there’s only about 700 cinemas in Britain, so we get massive support from the British Film Institute (BFI) who are really working hard to make sure we all stay open. We also have Creative Scotland which is the most marvellous organisation.

‘We are lining up some really good films for people to come and see and we expect to have two films initially and come September a lot of new films are coming on-stream too.’

Only recently, it received a £22,000 grant from Creative Scotland to invest in an upgrade of technology.

Jennie is originally from West London with a background working for Ticketmaster in Leicester Square, where she oversaw the box office for major concerts including the likes of The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. She said the cinema had to move forward.

‘You can’t stand still, or if you try to maintain the status quo, you start to go backwards, so we have to move forward. We have got a lot of plans for the cinema. Cinema is a unique experience and one of the very last things we do communally where we sit in silence and watch something, together.

‘It’s not like sport where everyone’s cheering their team on – the nearest thing is theatre but that’s live, so that’s why I think it’s so unique – the town really needs the cinema,’ she said.