Royal Cinema survives pandemic helping bring films into homes

The screen may be dimmed and the box office closed at the Royal Cinema on College Street, but its films are still being shown to viewers at home to keep the landmark movie house alive during the pandemic shutdown.

And an online fundraising campaign is augmenting government funds to help pay laid-off staff.

The Royal’s prospects of surviving the pandemic did not appear bright a month ago when the theatre was forced to close its doors. Screenings scheduled from March 16 on were cancelled or postponed without anyone being able say when they could return.

The future was “extremely foggy,” recalls Richelle Charkot, programming director at the Royal.

“It was very scary. There was no government aid then, so we started to look for any possibility to ensure we would have a theatre to return to.”

One possible solution was to work with programmers whose film series had been cancelled for the big screen to bring them to the public via computer and television screens.

With no box office, there could be no live ticketing, but the individual programmers devised their own methods of raising revenue.

Live-streaming party

Brendan Ross, curator for the Neon Dreams series of neo-noir films, organized an online party on April 10, live-streaming the 1988 crime film Shakedown with a live chat, accessible from a link provided on Instagram.

Viewers were asked to pay what they can by making a donation via GoFundMe, 100 per cent of which would go to support out-of-work Royal staff.

“The temporary shuttering of The Royal Cinema has caused a significant blow to the frontline workers — some of the most talented and hardest working people I know,” Ross said on the fundraising page.

The fundraising goal was $1,000 but currently nearly $2,000 has been raised. Several donations came from those who couldn’t make the virtual event but wanted to support the cinema.

Programmers have turned to Netflix Party for synchronized streaming or have resorted to placing films on YouTube channels, or are finding other ways of getting movies to their audience. Coming events are posted on the Royal’s Instagram page.

In addition to donations, support has come through messages and purchases of membership cards, which will be valid for screenings when the theatre comes back.

“It warms my heart how much support people are giving us,” Charkot says. “I want the Royal to be still a part of people’s lives.”

And the Royal Cinema does appear more assured of coming back, thanks to all the local support and a government grant.

“I really feel much better about it now,” Charkot says. “It’s not so dire.”

When it’s safe to re-open, the theatre plans to throw a customer appreciation party.