It’s lights, camera and action at Mount Gambier’s Oatmill Cinema Complex as it receives a Federal Government grant to see it through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supporting Cinemas’ Retention Endurance and Enhancement of Neighbourhoods (SCREEN) Fund, administered by Screen Australia, will help independent cinema operators who have experienced significant declines in revenue due to the pandemic, with one-off business continuity grants of up to $85,000.
Complex owner Shane Fulwood said the grant was a “very pleasant and welcome surprise”, arriving the same week that JobKeeper support ended. The Percy Street cinema was forced to close for five months last year at the height of the pandemic, reopening in August with limited screenings.
“We have really been on limited hours since then and basically tailoring our business to JobKeeper, which has helped to cover a percentage of wages,” Mr Fulwood said. “Before COVID we had 19 staff, but for the last 12 months been down to 11 and I am hoping to hold all of those. “With the help of this grant we are hoping that will hold until business picks up and we are organically profitable again.
“I was hoping the end of JobKeeper would dovetail in with a considerable improvement in business, but we did not have any idea the second or third wave would be so dramatic overseas.”
Mr Fulwood said while his cinema had strong local support, it was the ongoing delay of big budget movie releases that was harming the industry. “All the films we have been hoping to show have been delayed repeatedly,” he said. “It’s really been a bit of a challenge, trying to come up with ways to remain aware and relevant in the last 12 months.
“We were not expecting films to move so dramatically. “I was not too concerned about local survival because we have a strong supporter base, but I was worried the industry might collapse around us.”
Member for Barker Tony Pasin announced the grants on Tuesday and said the funding would provide critical support for independent cinemas in Barker and assist the local community and economy to restart from the pandemic.
“We’re introducing this funding to help support the viability of independent cinemas during this period when their business circumstances are still returning to normality, as the vaccine rollout progresses and Australia moves towards higher audience capacities,” he said.