Curtain call looms as Mercury Cinema board, CEO depart

The board and chief executive of embattled cinema group Mercury CX are stepping down, allowing a new group of directors to launch a last-ditch bid to save the organisation.

Dec 05, 2022, updated Dec 05, 2022
Mercury CX CEO Karena Slaninka has announced she will leave the organisation at the end of the year. Photo: James Knowler.

Mercury CX CEO Karena Slaninka has announced she will leave the organisation at the end of the year. Photo: James Knowler.

In an email to members on Friday, Mercury CX chair Gena Ashwell announced she and the rest of her six-member board left the organisation on November 30 after “exhausting all efforts to find a sustainable business and funding model”.

Mercury CX CEO Karena Slaninka will also leave at the end of her contract on December 31, the email stated. She has led the organisation since February 2020.

“With the lack of operational funding, the impact of COVID on the organisation reserves, ensuring fair pay and meeting overhead costs, it has become impossible to continue to deliver the current programs with the level of quality and professionalism that the industry, stakeholders and patrons deserve,” the email states.

The board and CEO of Mercury CX – a training organisation for emerging filmmakers and screen talent which also operates the 186-seat Mercury Cinema in Adelaide’s West End – have been in crisis talks for the last six months after their funding submission for between $700,000 to $1.2 million a year was knocked back by the Malinauskas Government in May.

Ashwell told members of Mercury CX at a second extraordinary general meeting on November 24 that the organisation would have to wind up in January if it could not secure a funding lifeline or identify a sustainable business model.

She flagged that if members opposed winding up the organisation, a new board would have to be appointed.

An alternative board of local film industry members was allowed to speak at the November meeting.

Ashwell said the positive reaction of members to the alternative group had prompted the board to stand down and facilitate a “rapid transition” to the new board, effective as of November 30.

The new group of directors is led by Emmy Award-winning producer Kirsty Stark, who told members last month she has had “really strong conversations with a whole variety of industry” about saving Mercury CX.

SA Film Corporation chair Peter Hanlon, film director Madeleine Parry, Highview Productions producer Lisa Scott and University of South Australia associate professor Kath Dooley are also part of the new board.

“We wish the incoming Board the absolute best in finding a way to ensure the survival of this much-loved organisation,” Ashwell said in a statement.

“There is no shortage of passion for Mercury CX, but what the organisation needs is funds, so please support them. Become a member. Go to the cinema. Take action to assist.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“The outgoing Board want the organisation to survive and hope the foundations they’ve laid will help the new board in the continued quest for the survival and sustainability of the organisation.”

Mercury CX estimates that it has cumulatively lost $695,000 in annual funding since 2015 due to government program cuts and COVID-19 sponsor losses.

Stark flagged to members at last month’s meeting that “there will need to be change” if the organisation is to survive.

“We’ve revolved a lot of conversation around what that change might look like and what are the core features and functionalities of the organisation that everyone is heavily wanting to sustain,” Stark said on November 24.

“We believe with the passion and support that’s out there, and with the flagged potential contracts that could come in the door next year, there is a way forward.

“Whether that’s a smaller, more sustainable way in an interim period looking to rebuild over time, we don’t know yet, but that’s where we’re currently standing.”

Mercury CX, established in 1974 as the Media Resource Centre, operates the 186-seat Mercury Cinema and 36-seat Iris Cinema on Morphett Street, adjacent to the Lion Arts Factory in Adelaide’s West End.

Opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1992, the cinema hosts a select range of local and international films year-round and has a prominent role in Adelaide’s festival season, particularly during the Adelaide Film Festival.

It also hosts the annual SA Screenmakers Conference and SA Screen Awards.

A petition to save the Mercury Cinema has attracted more than 2100 signatures.

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.