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Comment: Showdown at Phoenix Cinema meeting was like being transported back in time

PUBLISHED: 16:55 31 October 2018

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. Picture: Siorna Ashby

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. Picture: Siorna Ashby

@siornaphotography

To witness Phoenix staff member Nathan Cable tearing into the cinema’s board of trustees was like watching a Labour Party conference in the late 1970s.

An audience member is left searching for answers from the panel of trustees. Picture: Siorna AshbyAn audience member is left searching for answers from the panel of trustees. Picture: Siorna Ashby

There, Tony Benn would stand, tearing apart why Labour had lost in 1979, or the policies turned down by his party’s leadership, while the top table sat gloomy-faced just touching distance away.

And so it was on Sunday when, Benn-like, Mr Cable tore into the expressionless board.

“Why are we asking Curzon to take over the running of the cinemas when there is still time to turn things around by putting a fundraising strategy in place?” he asked.

“Why has there been almost no fundraising for the past four years? And why have the staff been actively preventing from fundraising on behalf of the Phoenix?”

The passion from Mr Cable at the lectern and the community on the floor was a stark contrast to James Kessler’s blasé approach.

But it was another re-run of a Bennite argument that seemed most pertinent. If the Phoenix needed to be handed over to a private chain to keep the lights on and to pay its debts, community involvement would ostensibly be gone. As one woman said: “We put our trust in you to run this cinema properly, not to give it away.”

In a society that increasingly owns little, the community in north London has a strong sense of ownership over the Phoenix. To paraphrase former prime minister Harold MacMillan, it felt like the trustees were talking about “selling off the family silver”.

Much like anything handed over to private ownership, it leaves punters prone to price rises, poor performance and the whims of management, with no say about it. Mr Kessler’s reassurance of a break clause fell on deaf ears.

Many will be waiting with baited breath for the board’s decision. Its legacy won’t just affect the next few months, or years, but decades to come for the Phoenix.

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