While it won’t be easy, the U.K. independent cinema sector can overcome the current bleak scenario with creative solutions, say members of Bird’s Eye View, one of the U.K.’s leading voices in driving gender equality in film. 

Members from the group, which span the distribution and exhibition sectors, gathered to discuss a pandemic recovery plan during a BFI London Film Festival industry event on Tuesday. 

“Can cinema survive without Hollywood global releases?” asked Caroline Hennigan from Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema. “I think it can, but it is not going to be cinema as we knew it.” Hennigan talked up the success of European, world and national cinemas during the pandemic. “This may well be a spur for production of national cinema, because it has shown how important it is,” said Hennigan.

The panelists discussed pivoting to online during lockdown and reported all-round positive experiences. “The challenge for us, and I expect for quite a lot of small and independent organizations and venues, will be how we integrate everything we’ve learned during this time, with the future, where we want to be a physical venue again,” said Jenny Horwell of London’s Bertha DocHouse, which is temporarily closed as a physical venue.

“We don’t want to give up the online space that we worked so hard on, not least because it allows us to reach outside London, where we’ve been limited to, and because of the accessibility.”

Wahida Niblo, from distributor Vertigo Releasing, noted that audience tastes have changed because of films being available readily on digital platforms. “We don’t think that the theatrical experience will ever go away,” said Niblo. She said that Vertigo was creating events to entice audiences who are comfortable with going out, back into cinemas, citing the example of upcoming release, the horror film “Host,” around which Halloween events are being planned.

“It is up to us as distributors to work with exhibitors to curate these experiences, create reasons for them to go out and see the films on the big screen,” Niblo said.

Allison Gardner from Glasgow Film emphasized the importance of people over profit. “Our staff are the most important people in our organization,” said Gardner. “The audiences come to see the films but they are greeted by your staff, they’re looked after by your staff, the health and safety is by the staff. These are the people we should be looking after.”

The BFI London Film Festival concludes on Oct. 18.