With that elegant art deco exterior, a whisky bar that Rick Blaine would be proud to own, and its proud community focus, Dalston’s Rio is a jewel in London’s cinema crown. Time Out readers have voted it one of their favourites in the city. According to campaigners, however, its independent status – and that community focus – is under threat.
The newly launched Save the Rio campaign claims that the cinema’s board is using the current crisis to push through ‘a bare bones staffing structure’ and is looking to sell the cinema.
‘[The campaign’s aim is] to ensure the Rio’s future as a charitable, independent, and community-led cinema,’ says Charlie Phillips, former chair of trustees at the Rio and supporter of the Save the Rio campaign. ‘Only by being independent, rather than owned or programmed by a chain, can the Rio remain accessible to its community to put on affordable and representative events by and for Hackney’s communities, [and] provide good jobs to its community.’
In an email to members on Monday, the Rio’s board denied that it plans to sell up but did question the cinema’s financial health. ‘It is our job as a Board to ensure that the Rio survives for the long-run and has sufficient funds in place to fund and meet its charitable objectives that it was set up to promote, serving the local community as it has done so brilliantly for the past 40 years,’ reads the statement.
‘We need to build a viable business model to safeguard the Rio, and at the same time retain its independent spirit, and we are hopeful that this is achievable. No decisions have been made, although potential redundancies cannot be ruled out as the Rio seeks to remain viable post reopening.’ According to the cinema’s management team, the Rio will remain shuttered until September.
‘Sometimes finances dip but we've never been close to running out of money,’ says Phillips. ‘2019/20 was our most successful financial year on record.’
The Save the Rio campaign is encouraging the cinema’s 1,300 members to sign an online petition and to vote in a new board at October’s AGM. ‘If people are already members – or once they become members – they should look at the Save the Rio website for information on how the board can be made more representative and accountable,’ says Phillips. ‘People need to act quickly though if they want their voice to be heard.’
London’s independent cinemas are unlikely to reopen in July.
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