With major film releases delayed and every cinema in Tayside and Fife currently closed, it might seem an odd time to plan for expansion.
But that’s exactly what Dundee Contemporary Arts is seeking to do as it looks to add a third cinema screen.
The arts organisation wants to utilise the bottom two levels of the city centre building that were occupied by Dundee University until last year.
The DCA board is keen to resurrect plans for an additional screen, which were initially suggested as part of submissions for Tay Cities Deal projects almost four years ago.
The confidence in the future comes after a record number of tickets sold in the last financial year to the end of March and several sold out social distanced screenings when the cinema reopened in September and October.
Massive demand for cinema
Despite it being a time of great uncertainty for the future of cinema, director Beth Bate said the DCA wanted to “hold onto its ambitions and big ideas”.
She said: “We’ve long held ambitions to expand DCA into the lower two floors of the building and after the University of Dundee departed there 18 months ago, we think there’s a brilliant opportunity for a third cinema screen.
“There’s massive demand for what we can do.
“It would give additional capacity and also the flexibility with our programming that would serve Dundee audiences brilliantly and generate more income.”
Ms Bate describes the space on the bottom two levels as “vast” and would comfortably hold a cinema screen sized between cinema 1’s 198 seats and the 72 seats in cinema 2.
Record ticket sales
More than 100,000 cinema tickets were sold at the DCA in the year to March 2020, with Oscar Best Picture winner Parasite the most attended, ahead of Hollywood blockbusters like Joker, Avengers: Endgame and 1917.
The independent cinema also held a horror film festival, children’s film festival and themed programming from other countries.
The DCA director admits that she would have been less hopeful about the cinema’s future during the summer.
But she was encouraged at the number of people returning to the DCA and subsequent progress on vaccines.
“If you’d asked me in the summer I would have said it would have taken a long time to build our audiences back up again,” she said.
“But the response we had when we reopened in September was amazing – shows were selling out albeit at reduced capacity so we could keep people distanced.
“It showed the demand was there and people miss going to the cinema and the communal experience of watching films.
“I also think it was because we were able to show it was incredibly safe to do that at DCA. There have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 transmissions at cinemas that we’ve seen.
“I want to thank people in Dundee for the remarkable support which meant a huge amount both financially and in terms of morale and spirit in the organisation.”
Protecting jobs and hours
It has been a torrid year for arts organisations and the financial impact has been keenly felt by the DCA.
It has taken advantage of the furlough scheme and other Government support, but the loss of income from cinema ticket sales and the Jute Café Bar has meant it faced some “really significant challenges”, Ms Bate said.
An emergency fund set up for donations has been well supported and no redundancies have been made.
“A lot of students work for us and we lost some staff over the summer but we have tried as far as possible to protect people’s hours,” Ms Bate added.
“Our focus has been protecting jobs and hours but we are going into an uncertain future and I wouldn’t be a prudent CEO if I wasn’t looking at every area of the organisation.”
Creative Scotland has provisionally given the DCA an assurance that it will extend its current three-year deal to give £2 million of support into a fourth year, 2021-22.
The DCA’s other main backer is Dundee City Council whose support has to be negotiated on an annual basis.
“We know it was a challenging situation for local authorities before we went into the pandemic and we know Dundee has been hit hard and will face difficult decisions,” Ms Bate said.
“What I hope is that we’ve been able to demonstrate the value of what we do more than ever, particularly for the Dundee community and schools.
“If we lost city council funding fully it would be a crisis but I don’t see that as being on the table given the role we play in the city.
“We’ve really been there during lockdown and risen to that challenge. I hope our partners will take this into consideration when we look at what the financial considerations will be for next year.”
Ms Bate added that as soon as Dundee was moved back to being in tier 2 they would look to reopen.
DCA’s top 10 most attended films for 2019-20
- Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
- Avengers: Endgame
- Downton Abbey
- Toy Story 4
- The Lion King
- Little Women