I’ve been tweeting like mad the past few days about the campaign to save the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse from sale or closure. This monumentally stupid predicament has been forced upon it by the UK Competition Commission who, in a fit of extreme diligence, have decided that having two cinemas with differing aims and audiences but owned by the same business in the same city is a social evil that must be prevented at all costs.
In fact, in their provisional findings, the Commission have recommended that either the Picturehouse or the Cineworld in Cambridge must be disposed of by parent company Cineworld Plc. Given that the Picturehouse, with its more adventurous programming and smaller number of screens, is surely the less profitable, it would seem likely that it is the one in imminent danger of eviction, which would be a huge loss to Cambridge as a city, not just its loyal customer base.
A coalition of local writers and cinema-goers have urged the Commission to think again. In a press release, we have set out the reasons why their findings are fundamentally flawed:
- The Picturehouse and Cineworld cinemas have strikingly different programmes and settings, making them very different propositions with only minor audience overlap (which was the reason cited by Cineworld for purchasing the Picturehouse chain in the first place)
- The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse is home to an array of in-house skills and screen technology (like the much-valued ability to run 70mm screenings), the likes of which are almost impossible to access outside of London
- The Arts Picturehouse hosts renowned events like the Cambridge Film Festival, is the base for long-term community projects like the Cambridge Film Consortium, and stages other cultural events such as exhibitions, school activities and film education
- There are many audience members who, if deprived of the quieter ambience of the Picturehouses under threat, would simply stop going to the cinema altogether – this is especially true of older audience members
- Local independent competition still exists in the form of the VUE cinema in Cambridge’s The Grafton shopping centre
- The social atmosphere engendered at all three Picturehouses under threat, from the welcoming and knowledgeable staff to the variety of food and drink available in the bar, is one that would irrevocably disappear under new management
Thanks for reading. You can find further coverage on TAKE ONE, the official organ (as they used to say) of the Cambridge Film Festival, which may well find itself homeless this time next year as a result, and The Movie Evangelist, who has done sterling work in breaking down the report and revealing it to be useless bilge.
We can only hope that common sense prevails. Whichever cinema it loses, Cambridge will be worse off. Consumers are the only losers here. Let’s make the Commission see that.