There are very few descriptive phrases left that can be used to describe how tough 2020 has been on our way of life. It didn’t feel right to me to end this challenging year with a traditional Top 10 Best & Worst list because this year has seen the biggest immediate change to our industry in modern times. So, instead I would like to simply ramble on about the importance of what cinemas provide in the hope that this message might be seen by people who can support.
If history has taught us one thing about the roll of cinema in times of fear, it is that they house a unique escapism the masses will flock to. The beginning of the Second World War saw cinema attendances skyrocket into the billions, a figure that possibly will remain untouched for lifetimes to come. The post war continued this trend with 1946 seeing the highest ever admissions at 1.6 billion people.
Of course, the landscape has changed, and cinema then didn’t have the amount of competition we have today. TV and streaming services offered healthy competition to cinemas; however, I believe that this pandemic has made people see the expendability of certain sectors with cinemas falling into this category. This thought has made me concerned and upset because, I consider cinemas to be the place where I can go and feel as though I’m in this sort of safety bubble. Everyone has a place where they feel the most relaxed and where they can get away from the hardships of life, the cinema is my safe place and when I see the competition of streaming services, TV and home cinema technology becoming more convenient and accessible, I worry that I’m going to lose the place I feel most comfortable in. The decline of cinema is like watching an eviction notice heading my way, where am I going to go from here?
I remember the day a local cinema near me was about to close and it was hosting a kind of farewell party, so I decided to go. I remember walking through the doors and being directed to a small, bar area. This bar was only small, and it wasn’t what you would call packed. The party itself whittled down to drinks, playing music from films and a quiz, that was it. I sat there thinking this cinema has been around ever since I was born, it has had many people come through its doors and many workers who have kept it going, it has been a active presence in the community and they want to send it off with a small quiz? What kind of final hurrah is that? For something that has been in the community for decades, you’d think there would be a little more pageantry.
The point I’m trying to make with this story is that cinemas are still an exciting place to visit, just look at the effect it has on people when a new cinema is set up in their local area. Immediately after my local cinema closed, a new, fresher cinema opened and on opening night it was packed, every screening was fully booked. There was also more than just your average pick n’ mix and popcorn, there is a proper bar area, pizza, burgers, social areas, the whole experience of just going to the cinema felt more communal and relaxed.
This is a huge step forward in the right direction for cinema, but this year has put that startling process to a grinding halt. Now I’m not here to present my ideas on how cinema’s tackle this problem, but when I hear news like Warner Bros. putting their entire 2021 film lineup on streaming services, or how a film like Tenet was perceived as the make-or-break roll of the dice, how can I and other people who love cinema not be worrying about its future? these are not just buildings that offer entertainment, they are places that change people, inspire people. I can say with confidence that I’ve walked into some films and walked out a changed person with new thoughts and ideas on life and our world. I’m positively sure that it is in a cinema where most filmmakers who grace the silver screens decided to get into the film business, so we owe it to ourselves to keep cinemas open so that they can be the locations where our next generation of filmmakers can be inspired.
Right now, 7 billion people on the planet are crossing their fingers hoping that this pandemic comes to an end so we can get back to the way things used to be. Now I have as much hope as the next person, but I know deep down, even if this pandemic ends, there’s no going back to the “exact same” normality. Once the dust settles, there are going to be a lot of places that will need our help to get back on their feet, cinema will be one of them. I’m hoping that the attendee boom of 1946 repeats itself, but we ultimately decide if history repeats itself. So this is a plea from a guy who loves films maybe a little too much, by all means keep your Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ etc. but if you can go to the cinema when the world seem a little less hectic, please do so. The magic of the silver screen may have disappeared in 2020, but as long as tickets are still selling and corn is still popping, it can be found again.
P.S. Best film of 2020 – Parasite
Worst film of 2020 – Dolittle