Creative Dundee

Will Cinemas Still Exist?

Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice, and anything in between. This article comes from Alice Black, Head of Cinema at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

This year started on an absolute high for the DCA cinema team.  We were poised to hit 100,000 admissions for the very first time since our doors opened in 1999.  Years of hard work responding to and developing audiences were finally paying off and plans for a potential third screen (something I’ve been dreaming of since the day I started working at DCA) were seriously discussed.  In February, we watched with absolute joy as an exciting, challenging, subtitled film from Korea (Parasite) won every award going and crossed over into the mainstream consciousness. The future of cinema at DCA seemed bright. And then….

Since we closed, I’ve tried not to overthink what could have been. Given everything that was going on in the world, we put all our energy into keeping the conversation about film alive with our audiences.  Online quizzes, film club, Discovery family shorts, VOD partnerships, emails to our Senior Citizen Kane group – these became virtual representations of what makes the DCA cinema programme special.  There were indeed moments in the early part of lockdown, where I grappled with my own existential crisis.  What was the point of me with no cinema to programme? Would cinemas still exist when everyone became used to watching movies at home? With the release schedules changing every second, would there even be films to show if we could open? Was the communal viewing experience dead?

I watch films for a living, but I also live to watch films. There here were occasional glimmers of what my old life used to be like peeking through the Netflix haze. When Cannes went virtual, and I had to navigate the same kind of infuriating hierarchy that makes this festival a challenge in real life every year, things almost felt normal. Yes, I was sitting on my sofa in Dundee instead of standing in a queue on the Croisette, but there was still the nail-biting wait to see if I would be allowed into a “screening.” Then there was the elation when I was given permission to view AND the film was great. Discovering a new exciting filmmaker or seeing a film that would be perfect for DCA – those are the moments that have kept me going for months. That’s when I started to think, hang on a minute; cinemas might just survive this and be stronger than ever. 

Now, as DCA prepares to open its doors again on 4 September, I am living in a zone that exists somewhere between those two feelings. I am hopeful because I love the films that we are going to be showing and I’m proud to bring them to Dundee. Getting back to scheduling (made even more challenging by our new enhanced cleaning regime and social distancing) filled me with excitement. I am anxious too though because so much is still unknown, from how the autumn release schedule will take shape to the timetable for restrictions to be lifted.  But as they say in the biz, the show must go on (socially distanced, with cleaning and safety protocols in place of course!). 

As much as I salute Christopher Nolan’s commitment to cinemas, Tenet isn’t what will save us – you will.  If you feel comfortable and able to come back in to see a film, we will give you an almighty welcome. But if you can’t see us in person, I hope you will still consider us your local cinema and support DCA in any way you can –by joining our activities online or by making a donation.  Your contribution, quite literally, is what keeps me and DCA going.  

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