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Netflix can’t match the Charm of Independent Cinemas

Lockdown made us all reconnect with our roots. Driving home from London on the 18th March, my car piled high with boxes of hastily packed belongings, I felt like I was fleeing to safety. My hometown in rural Dorset was a safe haven from the deadly virus rampaging through London. In the preceding days, I barely had time to catch my breath before the virus hit and we were forced to evacuate. Without a second thought, I fled the city and its rich cultural landscape and returned to my rural family home.

Cinema was the last thing on my mind. When the government announced the nationwide lockdown a few days after I returned home, my thoughts turned to survival: how will I shop for necessities and support my elderly relatives? How will I shield myself and my family from the deadly disease? Culture and entertainment were non-existent on my list of priorities. My life had been stripped back to basics. The eclectic offerings of theatres and indie cinemas in London were lightyears away from the bleak reality of lockdown in the countryside.

Yet as lockdown persisted and the weekly milestones of NHS claps turned into months, I began to miss cinema. I noticed a void in my everyday life that had been filled with regular trips to Curzon and the BFI at Southbank. I felt a deep longing for new experiences and the kind of diverse stories only films can tell. Lockdown was characterised by monotony and the same basic routine: eat, sleep, one daily outing and repeat. Cinema was the ultimate escape, with its power to transport the mind and place you in the shoes of someone else. I longed to sit before the big screen with a mountain of sweet and salty popcorn and lose myself in a different world.

I never felt the same with streaming. Netflix might be convenient, but it lacks the transportive quality of stepping through the door of a real cinema. Yet with cinema doors firmly shut, streaming seemed like the next best thing and subscription numbers soared. Big titles such as Emma and The Invisible Man overcame short stints in cinemas with early releases on online platforms. My friends lost themselves in streaming, raving endlessly about Normal People and binging boxsets of Suits. But, even the launch of Disney Plus in March did not tempt me. Streaming services were no match for cinema and its unique, immersive experience.

Credit: The Plaza Cinema, Trinity Street, Dorchester, Dorset.

Before I discovered trendy Curzon venues, my love for cinema began here in Dorset with my local indie venue. As a child, I visited every weekend and spent two hours glued to one of their four (rather small) big screens, watching a plethora of films from timeless classics to exciting blockbuster releases. I was an avid cinemagoer long before the rise of multiplexes and the opening of my local ODEON in 2012. That is all thanks to this independent venue, its charming service and low prices.

Since it opened in 1933, my local cinema has been a champion of accessibility and reasonable pricing. It brings my community together, both physically under its art-deco roof and metaphorically. Growing up, all of my friends had been to see the latest blockbusters, which supplied endless conversation and gossip in class. Films were essential common ground between kids from wealthier backgrounds and those who could not afford shiny new toys. Cinemas are far more than entertainment venues. They are vitally important social institutions, creating shared spaces that overcome class barriers.

Throughout lockdown, I longed for the weekly trips to the cinema that characterised my childhood. So when they announced plans to reopen on 10th July, the same day they first opened 87 years previously, I felt a happy mix of pride and excitement. I was one of the first to book tickets and counted down the days until their premier. Stepping through their doors again, I was overcome by familiarity, especially when I greeted their longstanding staff who almost feel like family. Other aspects were entirely different. My decision to wear a mask deprived me of their infamous popcorn, and socially distanced seating meant I was no longer surrounded by my friends. But despite their new safety measures, the cinema still had its same charm and community feel.

The pandemic might have forced me to flee London and its rich cultural offerings, but it also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the cinema that first inspired my love of film. I have tickets for several more showings before I return to the city, Curzon and its artistic diversity. Now more than ever is the time to support regional indie venues. They face an uncertain and challenging future, as government funding dries up and visitors remain cautious. My local cinema is the beating heart of my community. It survived a world war and countless deep recessions. We cannot let coronavirus bring down the curtain.

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor

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