Board of East Finchley’s Phoenix Cinema halts controversial Curzon takeover plan – but won’t rule out job losses

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. Picture: Siorna Ashby

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. Picture: Siorna Ashby - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are celebrating after trustees at East Finchley’s independent Phoenix Cinema paused plans to hand over the indie screen to the Curzon Cinema chain.

At a meeting today, trustees told staff they would “hold off” on plans to have the Curzon take over the operational side of the cinema.

The decision was taken on Wednesday night at a meeting of trustees and senior staff at the venue.

A statement by the Phoenix Cinema said: “The trust has listened to what staff and others have said and has now reached agreement with the Phoenix management that we will not go ahead with the Curzon partnership at this time.

“But we will seek ways in which the cinema’s operations can be transformed so that it can break even in financial terms while operating independently.”

The new plans appear to include more fundraising, as well as looking at how the cinema is run. But the trust has refused to guarantee jobs won’t be lost as part of any reorganisation.

People looking to support the venue will now be able to donate via its website. The Save the Phoenix campaign group raised more than £5,000 through crowdfunding in recent weeks.

At a public meeting on Sunday, staff and members of the community criticised trustees for not fundraising over the last five years.

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Phoenix trustee Alison Gold said: “The trust takes its responsibility to keep the cinema open very seriously and we have thought hard about the best way of doing that. We recognise the desire to keep the Phoenix independent and we will work with management and staff to achieve that goal. The Phoenix can only be saved by greater ongoing public support. We encourage all those who love the Phoenix to come to it, often.”

The Phoenix Cinema’s management said: “We are pleased with this decision by the Board and hope that it proves to be a turning point for the Phoenix Cinema’s strategy, as well as how the board and staff work together. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from the local community and would like to thank everyone. We will do our very best to ensure the Phoenix can have a sustainable future as an independent community cinema. We echo the board in encouraging all those who love the Phoenix to come to it often. And we also welcome any donations.”

Campaign group Save the Phoenix, welcomed the news. “We have always believed in the Phoenix Cinema’s ethos - a cinema run by the people for the people is an institution worth preserving. We will support the Phoenix to build on this ethos and find a path to a prosperous independent future.”

At the heated meeting on Sunday, former Phoenix trustee Anthony Tasgal criticised the board for its plans, and lack of fundraising. Responding to the announcement this evening, he said he was “relieved the board have reluctantly and belatedly come to their senses.”

“They have responded to the fears and anxieties of the loyal staff, concerned community and patrons who want all other options exhaustively explored before irretrievably handing over independence to a chain.”

Chair of trustees James Kessler QC emphasised apparent financial problems at the cinema on Sunday, and said it was nearly in a position where it would struggle to pay its debts. He and the board of trustees were criticised for not raising concerns about finances earlier.

Former Rio Cinema general manager Charles Rubinstein told the meeting that, having looked at a balance sheet that was handed out, he believed Mr Kessler was causing “unnecessary panic”.

Patrons of the venue had raised concerns about the mooted takeover. Film critic Mark Kermode, director Mike Leigh and veteran comic actor Michael Palin have spoken out in support of the Phoenix’s independence, while veteran rocker Robert Plant donated £1,000 to the campaign.

This story is being updated