1. The Birks died as a cinema back in the 1980s. What makes you think it can work now?
In the days when films came in cans and only a small number of prints were made for distribution, rural cinemas might have to wait up to six weeks for popular films. People began going elsewhere. Modern digital technology will enable the showing of up to date films and a widely varied programme.
2. The cinema will only be open in the summer won’t it? Or at the weekends?
Although the cinema will be busier in the summer months, when more visitors are around, we are aiming for 7-day-a-week opening all year. We envisage running a smaller and more diverse programme in winter - including special seasons of films and the showing of live sports, music and ballet events beamed in from overseas.
3. You will have to be a member to be able to go, won’t you?
The cinema and café-bar will be open to everyone.
4. Aren’t you using money that should be going to the Town Hall or other worthy causes?
Grants we have been awarded have mostly been entirely specific to the cinema - not from a general pot that would otherwise have gone to other projects in the town. And where funds are more general, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice; Perth & Kinross have been even-handed in allocating funds to both the cinema and the Town Hall. It is not about competing, but about doing everything we can to improve the quality of life in Highland Perthshire.
5. The new Community School could have a cinema in it, so why do we need another one?
The new school certainly has an auditorium where DVD and BlueRay films can be shown. However, the equipment there cannot be used to show on-release films available to cinemas. It will also be needed for all sorts of other events, and there’s a big gap between that sort of operation and a full-time cinema showing two or three films a day, with big, comfortable seats, and espresso and a glass of wine on tap.
6. Don’t they already show films at the Locus?
The Heartland Film Society shows a monthly film from September to May, and the films they are able to show are usually those that have left the cinema circuit, but – as with the school – these occasional showings don’t constitute a cinema. To a certain extent, the society came into existence because there was no cinema within easy striking distance, and it was members of the Film Society who first broached the idea of reviving the Birks.
7. Surely there won’t be enough business to keep the cinema going? The town is too small.
With a hinterland stretching as far as Kinloch Rannoch and Killin, plus thousands of summer visitors, Aberfeldy should be able to sustain the cinema. We’ve had the help of cinema expert Ron Inglis, Director of Regional Screen Scotland, in preparing a robust business plan, and it appears a viable enterprise; cinemas on a similar scale are trading successfully elsewhere.
8. If it can work as a business, why has no commercial company come forward to take it on?
Although the cinema should make a small profit, the sums involved would not be tempting enough for private investors – and of course the investment needed to rebuild the Birks is substantial. The Friends of the Birks Cinema is a charity, and the cinema will be run as a social enterprise on behalf of the community, with a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.
9. Why are you introducing another café in town?
Income from a café-bar is essential to balance the books and support the cinema, but the cinema will bring an increased number of visitors into town and we do not anticipate that other businesses will suffer. In the evenings, when other cafes are closed, the Birks will be a lively central spot to find a snack.
10. Why not build an entirely new cinema rather than converting an old building?
The site of the Birks is perfect for a cinema, as it always has been: central and highly visible. It’s not a listed building, and it might have been possible to obtain permission to take it down, but that Art Moderne façade plays an important part in many people’s happy memories – it’s part of the town’s heritage - and it seems to us important to preserve this link with the past.
11. You have just had a large SRDP grant awarded to you and have until 31 Jan 2012 to find match funding. How realistic is that?
We know that this will be a difficult task, however we have been talking to a number of large trusts and funds over the last few months and are hopeful that the backing we have received to date (and in particular the significant endorsement of the project from the SRDP) will support our applications. We are also planning a big local fundraising campaign and really keen to explore ideas that folk might have on this and of course really keen to get as much assistance from the community as we can to do this.
12. What will happen if you can’t raise enough money to carry out the renovation?
If the worst came to the worst, and we were unable to find the money for the renovation over the course of the next few years, the cinema would go back on the market. The money used to buy the building would be repaid to the Scottish Government.
13. What will happen if you build the cinema but it doesn’t work as a business?
The enterprise should work as long as we get the programming right, and the café right and the marketing right, and keep costs under control. But if we do all these things and audiences still don’t materialise in sufficient numbers, after a certain amount of time we might have to admit defeat. Again, the cinema would be sold.
14. As it’s a community enterprise, won’t it all be a bit home-made?
People have memories of the Birks not long before it closed – so cold that they had to take hot water bottles. The new Birks will be top quality as far as comfort is concerned, with state of the art sound and projection, big plush seats and even cup-holders: a beautiful, lively, contemporary space. And thanks to the use of high tech energy conservation and renewables, it will be as warm as toast.
15. Who are the people running the Friends of the Birks Cinema?
The trustees are: Charlotte Flower (Chair), Kate Timperley, Patti Walker-Booth, Julia Watson, Ron Young, Douglas Swan. Muriel Dunbar and Lin Thomas are also on the board, and Terry Wisdom has been coopted to serve as Treasurer. In addition, we have the professional assistance of J & H Mitchell as solicitors, Johnston Carmichael as chartered accountants.