By Brad Stout
THE future of the Wonthaggi cinema is in doubt as manager Keith Stevens negotiates the sale of the digital projection equipment to the Bass Coast Shire Council, which owns the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre.
The negotiations come following the announcement of Mr Stevens’ retirement from the cinema – which left many Wonthaggi moviegoers panic-stricken and afraid it would close indefinitely.
Neither Mr Stevens nor members of the council were willing to comment on the state of the $137,000 negotiations; however, a business plan for the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre is set to be presented in a briefing to council in the coming weeks.
Council’s David Elder, general manager of healthy communities, and Mark Lindsay, coordinator of recreation and culture, said the cinema is still a part of that business plan, despite the uncertainty of future operations.
“What we’ve heard in the business case is that the cinema is absolutely valued by the community, so we’ll be doing everything we can to ensure the cinema operations continue,” said Mr Elder.
“What we don’t know yet is what that looks like.”
Retiring after 17 years
After serving as manager of the cinema for 17 years, Mr Stevens says he decided to retire in part because of the increasing uncertainty around the Arts Centre’s availability.
As the cinema is housed in the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre, it has to share the space with local theatre productions and dance recitals, among other things – which limits how often the cinema can operate.
Additionally, scheduled screening sessions at the cinema are often taken off the calendar so the council can use that time to schedule repairs and maintenance at the facility.
“From my point of view at the moment, it’s uncertain,” Mr Stevens said.
“I don’t know when the cinema can use the centre.
“For me, it isn’t viable, but if council operated it, it would be practical because they would turn around and probably run with volunteers, which wouldn’t cost them wages.
“They can run what they want and run it as a community cinema which would be fabulous for the town.”
Mr Stevens would also like the council to operate the cinema in his absence by placing a year-round box office in the centre and a full-time box office manager who can also manage the cinema.
“This place, if the cinema is not here, will become a white elephant,” said Mr Stevens.
“People won’t come into the town if it’s not here.”
Members of the Bass Coast Fine Film Group (BCFFG), which regularly holds screenings of various art films in the cinema, asked to meet Mayor Jordan Crugnale, as well as Mr Lindsay and Antoinette Mitchell, manager of Community Strengthening, on Thursday, June 30 to discuss their concerns.
Larry Hills, BCFFG secretary, said council assured them of its intention to keep the cinema going and informed the group of plans to create an advisory panel made up of representatives of all the different groups that use the Arts Centre, including BCFFG.
Mr Hills said BCFFG is optimistic that the cinema will continue, but the group feels the cinema will eventually need to operate out of a different location.
In the event council decides not to purchase the projection equipment from Stevens, BCFFG has been discussing new options to ensure a cinema continues to operate in the region.
BCFFG said Mr Steven’s expertise would be missed.
Mr Stevens has worked as a camera operator for various documentaries over the past 55 years.
He took over operations of the cinema in 2000 and quickly launched The Wonthaggi International Film Festival and The Other Wonthaggi Film Festival.
The final film screening under his operation will be held at 4pm on Sunday, October 9.