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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 05:29 GMT 06:29 UK
Poor show for London's cinemas
By Chirag Trivedi
BBC News Online, London

Warner Village Cinema
About 58% of cinemas in outer London are multiplexes
London is well known for hosting glitzy film premieres which attract A-List Hollywood celebrities.

The 47th annual London Film Festival is under way and the city now boasts a greater number of cinemas per head of population than New York.

So why is it that a London Assembly report has found that the vast majority of people in the city are facing an ever decreasing choice of films?

An investigation into local cinemas by the assembly's culture committee found that "leisure and cultural needs of Londoners are not being met" as Hollywood blockbusters dominate the screens.

In a snapshot survey of 68 films on show outside the West End during a week in August, the committee found that more than 75% of the screenings were for just six movies: Terminator 3, Pirates of the Caribbean, What a Girl Wants, Rugrats Go Wild, Spy Kids 3 and Legally Blonde 2.

"We should not be blinded by the billboard lights of Leicester Square," says the report.

The area where Alfred Hitchcock was born, Leytonstone, no longer has an operational cinema
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the culture committee

"Outside the West End, Londoners' access to a local cinema and to a diverse range of films is dramatically reduced."

Multiplexes make up 35 of the 60 picture houses in outer London.

Some boroughs like Lewisham in south-east London and Waltham Forest in the north-west, do not even have a working cinema.

The report adds: "The greater proportion of multiplexes outside the West End and their decisions on programming contributes to geographical differences in the diversity of film on offer."

'Paltry range'

Three Odeon franchises within the West End put on specialist films compared to only one in the whole of outer London, where 60% of residents live.

Warner Village, which has 10 multiplexes in London, screens Asian films at their flagship Village in Leicester Square.

But it does not show them in Acton in west London or Harrow in the north-west, despite their large Asian communities, the committee found.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: "The area where Alfred Hitchcock was born, Leytonstone, no longer has an operational cinema.

I think independent cinemas should be part of local cultural and regeneration programmes
Ruth Mulandi, general manager Phoenix cinema
"The city in which 300 languages are spoken shows a paltry range of foreign language films outside of the West End.

"We recognise that cinemas are businesses and many do not want to take risks on films that might not put bums on seats.

"But cinemas do have a role to play in celebrating the diversity in our multicultural society."

Responding to the report Vue Entertainment, which owns Warner Village, said: "Vue has publicly stated its commitment to offering audiences a wider variety of films.

"The great advantage of running multiplexes is that we have the facilities to allow this without sacrificing traditional blockbuster entertainment.

"We are sympathetic to many of the findings of the culture committee's report and we are actively working to ensure that all our customers have access to the films they want to watch in the best surroundings possible."

The Phoenix Cinema
The Phoenix is one of the country's oldest cinemas
The report says independent cinemas outside central London are not always the answer because they are often limited to one screen and are under the same pressures as multiplexes to show sure-fire hits.

Ruth Mulandi, general manager of the successful independent Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, north London, told BBC News Online: "When the multiplex opened up in West Finchley we started to show some main stream films but now we cater for a whole different audience, showing art house, independent and foreign films.

"I think independent cinemas should be part of local cultural and regeneration programmes.

"Also there should be a one-off, capital investment donation or grant so that they can invest in other revenue streams - such as a coffee bar - so that they can become self-sufficient.

"At the moment things are done on a shoe-string."

The report wants the mayor to use his planning powers to address the lack of cinemas in outer London.

It also urges the Office of Fair Trading to examine how the relationship between distributors and cinema exhibitors can be balanced to encourage choice.

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22 Sep 03  |  London


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