Film buff - Kevin Lewis
Does Jersey need an independent cinema?
By James McLachlan
Jersey is down to one cinema. But with recent interest in independent film, is there a market for an alternative?
The demise of the New Forum has left Jersey with just one cinema. But it wasn’t long ago islanders were spoilt for choice.
With three cinemas for a population of just over 80,000, Jersey was one of the most oversubscribed places in the UK.
Something had to give - and it did - with the closure of the Cine de France, closely followed by the Odeon.
There was a brief resurgence with the New Forum, but it was living on borrowed time, and earlier this year the building’s owners pulled the plug, leaving Cineworld standing alone.
Cineworld is a state-of-the-art complex with 11 screens, 1800 capacity, VIP boxes and even a bar - for those who feel alcohol adds to the cinematic experience.
But does Jersey need an independent cinema?
Jersey Film Society
At the moment, the Jersey Film Society (JFS) is flying the flag for independent and foreign film.
The old Odeon
The society's membership has reached nearly 250 this year and patron, Geoffrey Coppock, has noticed an increase in appetite for more off-beat rarities.
Geoffrey Coppock said: “Branchage opened a lot of people’s eyes to independent film, but I don’t think there would be enough support for an independent cinema.
“For it to work it would need huge promotion and whoever doing it would have to be prepared to lose a lot of money. It would take a real enthusiast.”
One such enthusiast is Kevin Lewis, who ran the Cine de France from 1985 to 2004, and the New Forum until January this year.
The Cine de France could accurately be described as Jersey’s last independent cinema. For nineteen years it occupied a niche between the JFS and the Odeon.
Kevin Lewis said: “Our third screen held about thirty people and we used to show alternative films in there – anything topical or a bit unusual.
“The turnout was quite unpredictable. Some nights it was packed, others empty.
"The major problem in showing film is the cost involved in shipping it over.
"It was a hugely expensive business. We’re talking about several hundred pounds to ship one film.”
Unlike the UK, there are no grants available for cinemas or film.
According to Kevin Lewis, this means anyone trying to run an independent cinema must be prepared to take a loss.
Kevin Lewis said: “I knew our days were numbered when Cineworld came in.
"We were just managing to break even at the Forum. To us, film was a passion, to Cineworld it’s a business.”
Jersey – A film hub?
Arts Trust co-ordinator, Tom Dingle, is understandably passionate about an art-house cinema, but is sceptical that Jersey could sustain one without financial help.
For Tom Dingle, the issue of film funding goes way beyond the idea of an alternative cinema.
Tom Dingle said: “It raises the question - does Jersey want to be a film hub, in which case you need funding to attract filmmakers to the island.
“There is a proposition lodged with economic development for a film fund involving private investors which relies, not on government funding, but on a small tax break."
To qualify for these tax breaks visiting filmmakers would have to spend a percentage of their budget, and provide training opportunities for local people.
Crowd puller - Jersey Film Festival
Tom Dingle said: “This initiative, coupled with Branchage and the JFS, plus money from the Arts Trust will all become a package that people can have.
“What we need is the States to adopt a can-do attitude to help us along, rather than putting their hand in their pocket.
“Filmmakers are at the heart of the emergence of creative industries and Jersey needs to recognise that if it doesn’t want to be left behind.”
A brief chink of light in the otherwise gloomy outlook is the possibility of UK lottery funding.
It may be responsible for some horrifically cheesy television, but it does offer grants for alternative cinemas and filmmakers.
Whether or not Jersey signs up rests with the States. Meanwhile, Kevin Lewis has his fingers crossed.
Kevin Lewis said: “I hope it happens, I really do. And if it does, my application will be the first one in the post.”
What do you think?
Does Jersey need an indie cinema? Is there enough interest? Have you thought about opening a cinema, and what are the chances of films being shot in Jersey in the future?
last updated: 06/02/2009 at 09:41
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