Supporters of London's Oldest Community Cinema Fear for Its Future

Save the Rio campaigners have launched a petition calling for the re-election of its board after fearing the cinema’s independence is at risk.
June 30, 2020, 3:00pmUpdated on June 30, 2020, 2:51pm
The Rio Cinema in east London. ​
The Rio Cinema in east London. Photo: S Swenson / Alamy Stock Photo

Supporters of the oldest community-run cinema in London fear for its independent status after claims from its Board of Trustees that the cinema is not in a strong financial position.

A campaign group started by “members and supporters” of east London cinema the Rio launched a petition last week, alleging that the cinema’s board “are rumoured to want to have a commercial cinema chain operate the Rio”. The petition, which asks members of the public to contact the board and call for their immediate resignation in order to elect a new board in October, currently has over 5,800 signatures. The campaign also fears redundancies for staff, while many are currently furloughed, and disputes the financial insecurity of the cinema.

On their website, the Save the Rio campaign claims: “Recent changes at trustee level have enabled a number of un-elected people to join the Board and push their corporate agenda. They have been moving towards a bare bones staffing structure for some time but are now using the COVID-19 crisis to push this through.”

“They have also mooted looking for other operators, meaning the Rio would no longer be the independent cinema we love.”

According to campaigners, 111 Rio members have written to the board demanding an Emergency General Meeting and their resignation, but the board are yet to respond.

In a statement from the board published on the cinema’s website, it denied intentions to sell but would not rule out redundancies due to the fact that “the charity's position is not strong”.

"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," the statement reads. "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.”

It continues: “We would like to emphasise that the Rio is a charity and its charitable aims are firmly embedded in its Articles of Association. Any operational changes will need to be made in this context. We are wholeheartedly committed to these aims, and legally required to do so.”

VICE reached out to its Board of Trustees for a comment but they had no responded at time of publishing.

The Rio Cinema, which has existed for over 40 years in Dalston, east London, is a not-for-profit charity cinema that programmes a diverse range of independent and blockbuster films. As well as commercial screenings, the cinema also holds community screenings for locals and schools in the area. It is currently closed due to the pandemic – one of the many casualties of the coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered pubs, clubs, bars and theatres.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.