NATIONAL TREASURE

President's Perspective / Mike Eley BSC

TWC_D01_128.CR2

NATIONAL TREASURE

President's Perspective / Mike Eley BSC

It hasn’t gone quite as well as we hoped. Six months of various types of lockdown was meant to be the price paid for an autumn release that would herald a winter of….well, if not content at least freedom of movement beyond one’s bubble.

Six months ago the health and physical well-being of everyone in the country was paramount. We clapped the NHS. Everything else was beside-the-point bordering on trivial. Now, it’s about balancing hospital admissions with those for pubs, restaurants and gyms. “It’s the economy, stupid”.

And cinemas. The release we were hoping for has not transpired.

Many cinemas have either closed outright or have gone part-time. Several of the studio pictures due for release this autumn have been pushed to next year. Disney, high on having a streaming service to rival Netflix and Amazon, is now diverting its new product to people’s televisions. What would Walt say? If ever there was a man who understood the power and pure emotional heft of a theatre full of gaping mouths and brimming tear-ducts, it was him.

I know, the theatres are not full. But just when cinema could do with some true heroics from very rich studios, the big hitters decide to pull out. Could they not entertain the idea of a long run rather than bank on a big opening weekend? Cinemas are controllable places, we know that now. Reduced numbers, sure, but alive. The caveat here is that if a lockdown is scientifically the right thing to do, then that’s what should be done; but in this hinterland of numbered tiers and local circuit-breakers some long-term thinking applied to usually ‘bingo!’ business models would not go amiss.

I do not believe large studios are reading the writing on the wall and intuiting the demise of cinema. If it had been on its last legs prior to lockdown, one might have been able to put forward the ‘final nail in the coffin’ prognosis, but cinema attendances were at a record high only a few years back.

Two things have to happen: theatres have to get their act together and become once again an extension of the film crew. They need to bear the responsibility once insisted upon by Stanley Kubrick in his “Dear Projectionist” letter. They need to become proper dark, immersive places where the individual can become that which is almost unique to the cinema-goer - alone with all their inner fears, joys, anxieties and hopes and at the same time one of the crowd, part of the body collective with its own range of emotions. There is nothing like it. Not even live theatre can match that level of immersion.

I’m all for the boutique cinema experience where it’s a mix of cocktail bar and screening room with a sofa thrown in, but the well designed auditorium providing optimum levels of overall screen luminosity, the correct levels of ambient light and a comfy chair should not be beyond the wit or pocket of a multiplex with James Bond in its pocket.

Cinema, along with all the other Arts, is an economic engine as much as a cultural, national treasure. It runs on confidence, optimism and vision (mostly, it has to be said, expressed by those very freelancers). And as cinematographers, we have to be cinema’s most vocal advocate. It’s where our work is best seen. Movie-goers will want - and they will deserve - the magic.

I ask those who run our theatres and chains to come speak to us, the cinematographers, so together we can kitemark British cinemas and prove their excellence.

The other thing is that we need to start believing, through funding, marketing, distribution and publicity, in UK films. Our perception of what cinema can be and what it represents to us as a nation needs revising. Dare I say we could be more like France, respecting and protecting its film industry and the movies it produces with pledges of support for independent films by the larger cinema chains and a sliding scale of film tax credits that favour the smaller-to-medium sized films, to name two possible ways forward?