16 February 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

I have fond memories of the movie theatre in Deniliquin, the rural town where I grew up. It was a place for nights out with my family, or for a catch-up with friends, where maybe the odd Jaffa was even rolled down the then-timber aisles. It really was a social hub for the whole community, and a bit of an occasion even; something you looked forward to all week and while the movie was obviously the focus, the social aspect was just as important.

Unfortunately, the theatre I remember has long gone and sadly isn’t entertaining a new generation of cinema-goers.  None of us can deny things have changed, and the place of the local movie theatre has shifted in terms of its importance in our social – and cultural – lives. Scores of cinemas in rural and regional communities across Australia have disappeared in recent decades, as our sources of visual entertainment evolved. Think first the video, then DVD, and now streaming services which all add up to on-tap, cinema-like entertainment in the comfort of our own homes. And, then, for a few years COVID made a visit to the movies impossible, pushing many smaller, independent operators to the brink.

Earlier this year, the Federal Government launched a new cultural policy named Revive, which includes a nod to the future of cinemas, particularly in rural and regional areas. As well as recognising the impact of COVID on our arts industry in the past three year, it also acknowledges its cultural, social and economic significance. The industry is worth billions to our economy each year, and the humble trip to the movies is a part of that.

I read an opinion piece following the release of Revive from the head of one of our largest cinema chains, who obviously has a vested interest in the new cultural policy but nonetheless has some interesting perspectives to share. He maintains it’s a ‘content challenge’ with large studios focusing their efforts on their own streaming platforms and more series content, rather than on standalone films. Without these kinds of first-run movies to screen, he says, the longevity of cinema is on shaky ground. Encouraging Australian productions, and big-screen projects made in Australia, is also key. This new policy goes some way towards achieving fresh gains for our movie industry, and the cinemas that screen them, but the sector says more needs to be done to secure the future of cinema, particularly in non-metropolitan areas.

Government policy is one thing, but it’s also dependent on us to support our local theatres, particularly the smaller, independent ones that have had to negotiate a lot of hurdles over the years. Sure, watching a movie on Netflix can be a good option, but there’s nothing quite like getting your choc-top from the candy bar, settling into your plush seat and feeling that tingle of excitement as the opening credits roll on a massive screen, and the surround sound reverberates.

There’s also the unique experience of watching a film with other like-minded individuals who you don’t know but who are likely to laugh when you laugh, gasp when you do or even stifle a sob at the same you are (think ‘Red Dog’). You can’t replicate that at home, it’s an experience all of its own. So, if you haven’t been to a cinema in a while, treat yourself, and while rolling Jaffa’s may be a thing of the past, let’s ensure a visit to the movies doesn’t go the same way.

To read this article in The Land Newspaper, go to https://www.theland.com.au/story/8084283/night-at-the-movies-could-be-a-thing-of-the-past/?cs=5739