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It was opened by Queen Elizabeth and has hosted world famous movie directors, but soon the big screen in Adelaide's Mercury cinema may go dark. NAD+
The self-described home of independent cinema has simply run out of money and there is little will to fund its ongoing operations from public coffers.
"I mean what we're talking about is a death by a thousand cuts situation," admitted Mercury CX chief executive Karena Slaninka.
The downhill slide began in 2015 when the then federal government cut funding to cinema organisations, which have training and development programs among their offerings.
While interstate operations closed, the not-for-profit Mercury was able to keep its doors open as it had a cinema to keep the money coming in.
Cinemagoers disappeared, along with their money, and the organisation was eventually granted an emergency $300,000 by the former Liberal state government.
It was never going to be enough and, armed with an independent report pointing to its critical role in South Australia's film sector, Mercury approached the Labor government for ongoing funding.
"What we have asked government for is $700,000 to meet our operational costs [per annum]; that would be the ideal," Ms Slaninka revealed.
It has the backing of many who have used the Mercury during their careers, including Hollywood director Scott Hicks.
"The amount required to keep Mercury functioning is a relatively modest amount," Hicks said in a video message.
But extra money will not be coming from the state government.
In a statement, Arts Minister Andrea Michaels said "Mercury CX receives $240,000 per year from the South Australian Film Corporation".
"In addition, the state government provided a grant of $50,000 for the Screenmakers Conference," the statement said.
"As an independent organisation, it is up to Mercury CX's board to run its business in a sustainable way."
An extraordinary annual general meeting will be held on Thursday night.
The Mercury board will recommend the organisation be wound down.
"Unless we get some heroic knight in shining armour coming along and waving the flag and providing some kind of support, I think it will be very difficult for us to be able to see a way forward," Ms Slaninka admitted.
She said closure would be catastrophic for the state's film sector.
"People keep saying, 'Oh, we should be self sustaining', and I understand that.
"But there is no cultural organisation in the state or in the country I would argue that is self-sustaining.
"Talent and business will go interstate and what we run the risk of being in SA is another pretty backdrop for other peoples films."
The Mercury CX fight to stay open is reflected throughout Australia's cinema industry, which was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19.
Many are being forced to adopt the adage of having to spend money to make money.
The family-run Wallis Cinemas is investing significant amounts of money refurbishing the 82-year-old Piccadilly theatre in North Adelaide, with a grand reopening to be held next month.
Lifts have been installed, its food and beverages areas updated and other improvements made.
"We are very optimistic that it will work," Wallis community relations manager Deanna Wallis said.
"We're really rooting for the public to come and support us [and] enjoy the amazing downstairs."
She said cinemas have had to battle COVID-19, streaming services, the rising cost of living and other factors in recent years.
Update or disappear is a message that also rang loud and clear for the City of Burnside, which took over running the Regal Theatre in Kensington Park, after several troubled ownerships.
It originally opened in 1925 and when the council stepped in, it immediately recognised major work was needed.
"We've substantially refurbished the entire building and I'm really pleased that in doing that we've respected the heritage characteristics of the building," council chief executive Chris Cowley said.
But he said much more was needed for its long term future, with an extensive precinct master plan now public and planned to be completed in stages.
"It could be as high as $5 million," he said.
"We just closed the tenders for a detailed design to be done for the whole master plan."
Both Mr Cowley and Ms Wallis are saddened to see the plight of the Mercury cinema.
"We do a lot of programming for a lot of independent cinemas and it does break our heart, we know the struggle," Ms Wallis said.
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