Curtain descending on Star Cinema

Diminishing Star…Longreach’s Norm Salsbury has upheld the legacy of the Roxy Theatre through the Star Cinema, but how long can the curtain remain open?

AwardedQueensland’s Cinema Pioneer of the Year in 2017, Norm first began his ventureinto the film industry alongside his father at the Broadway Theatre in Jerichowhere they became the inspirations behind the Shire Council’s decision toconstruct the town’s drive-in theatre in 1969.

Since moving toLongreach in 1977, Norm and Edna operated the town’s Roxy Theatre until the endof 1987 when the popular venue became the Star Cinema. The couple have managedthe Star to this day.

Despitepositive reception from locals and visitors, attendance numbers have continuedto drop according to a post made on the establishment’s Facebook page earlierthis month.

“We areendeavouring to keep the cinema operating with cooperation from major andindependent distributors,” the post said. “However, we are in our fourth weekoperating (post Covid-19) and attendance has not improved. Without attendance,we will need to review the cinema’s future.”

Mr Salsburysaid Covid-19 had played a prominent role in the reduction in movie-goernumbers but believes the pandemic had also affected the process of how thecinema receives films from distributors like Roadshow Films, Sony Pictures andWalt Disney.

“We haven’tbeen trading too badly over the past few years, but it started to slow down atthe beginning of 2020 and then we were forced to close due to Covid-19,” MrSalsbury said. “Since we re-opened in July, business hasn’t picked up.

“The highestattendance for a session so far is 22 and we’ve had two children films where thehighest was 35. The numbers just aren’t adding up.

“We deal withmajor distributors and they all send out the dates their product will come outand it’s up to us to make a deal with them and book the films. The process ofgetting films is a lot harder because, with Covid-19, a lot of films that weregoing to be released are going straight to streaming services.

“When you bookthe film there are terms and conditions you have to agree to. It has becomevery hard now with distributors forcing you to do things you don’t want to do.It’s not an easy game.”

Over the years,Mr Salsbury has tested the waters with session times varying from the regularFriday, Saturday and Sunday structure, as well as screening movies from thepast such as 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“We may have to hold more sessions because everyone can’t make the sessions we have, but we’re dealing with distributors,” he said. “If we decide to give a certain movie a few more sessions, it costs more to put it on, and if we don’t get anyone in those sessions the return is simply not there.

“We stick to the session times so people get used to the standard times, with those who really want to see the film working around their schedule most of the time.

“We’re going to get Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I as its now being put onto 24K digital. Going back over the years, we did try putting on good old favourites, but they weren’t supported. Dirty Dancing was a failure and so was Pretty Woman.

“It’s not just about showing the film, we’re using power, time and projectors, so you’ve got to have a few people inside to cover those costs.”

With the increased popularity of interactive screenings like Event Cinemas’ Gold Class and 4DX experiences, Mr Salsbury believes the Star Cinema is an excellent venue to “make a night out of.”

“The purpose of going out to the movies is to meet with your friends, make a night out of it and go out afterwards,” he said. “Movie nights happen everywhere around the world.

“One thing about Longreach is that we’re privileged to have such a nice cinema. It would be a shame to see it disappear but it’s like anything — if you don’t use it, you lose it.

“The community needs something like the cinema as there are people who don’t go to other venues such as the regulars we have every week.”

One of Star Cinema’s regular movie-goers, Daniel Prosser, said there was nothing better than buying snacks from the candy bar and experiencing a movie for the first time on the big screen.

“I love going to the movies here,” Mr Prosser said. “There’s almost always a movie that I want to see and it’s a great social alternative to a night at the pub.

“It helps knowing that when you unwrap that choc-top or dive into that bucket of popcorn, you’re supporting locals who are committed to bringing new releases and entertainment for us to enjoy.”

Although he understands the comfort of having express release movies like Disney’s upcoming blockbuster, Mulan, at your fingertips, Mr Salsbury urges the community to experience the Star Cinema before it’s too late.

“I know of towns that have movie theatres, but they’ve closed because of Covid-19 and won’t be re-opening,” Mr Salsbury said. “I feel sorry for those places because it’s somewhere you can go and forget about what’s happening outside. These days, you need to be entertained.

“I’m not being biased when I say it’s definitely better to see a film like Mulan on the big screen. It doesn’t matter how big your television screen is at home or how loud your sound system is, nothing can beat the feel of a cinema.”