Mercury Cinema curtain call for funding

The operators of Adelaide’s Mercury Cinema say it will be forced to close in December unless it can secure $700,000 in annual funding, amid a call for supporters to lobby the state government to step in.

Sep 14, 2022, updated Sep 15, 2022
The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Mercury CX, a training organisation for emerging filmmakers and screen talent which hosts 15 film industry development programs a year, held an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) at the Mercury Cinema last night to provide an update on its financial situation and the prospect of imminent closure.

The not-for-profit, which hosts several film festivals and industry events, including the SA Screenmakers Conference and the SA Screen Awards, had a submission for $700,000 to $1.2m in annual funding knocked back by the Malinauskas Government in May.

Mercury CX chair Gena Ashwell told around 150 people in attendance at Tuesday’s EGM that the organisation and its cinema cannot survive beyond December if it does not find $700,000 to support ongoing operational costs.

“We have gone as long as we can and we have limited funds left now, and they have to be quarantined as a matter of good governance in order to wind up in a professional manner,” she told attendees.

“If we don’t find a solution by December, we will close the doors.”

Mercury CX estimates that it has cumulatively lost $695,000 in annual funding since 2015 due to program cuts from Screen Australia, Arts SA, the South Australian Film Corporation, and sponsor losses due to COVID-19.

The Mercury Cinema on Morphett Street was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1992. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The meeting was told that between $1.2m and $1.4m a year was needed to deliver “all that we do across industry development, exhibition and events”.

Mercury CX says it currently receives $320,000 in direct government funding to deliver film industry programs, while the cinema generates around $400,000 in revenue through ticket sales, venue hire and sponsorships.

The combination of government grants and cinema revenue still leaves the organisation $700,000 short of what it needs for daily operations, staff costs, administration and maintenance, according to Mercury CX.

Ashwell told the meeting that Arts Minister Andrea Michaels asked the organisation to report back in October with a revised business model based on around $240,000 in funding, or “inform her of closure”.

Ashwell said Mercury CX’s board and management had explored all possible operating models – while also looking at philanthropy and industry funding – but was yet to find a way through the crisis.

“This brings us back to where we began 18 months ago, with no certainty, not enough resources to deliver for our current offering, and lots of time lost,” she said.

“No one wants to find themselves in this position, but I can say hand on heart we have done absolutely everything to give it a chance.

“We really only have three months before the story ends for the Mercury.”

Mercury CX CEO Karena Slaninka speaking at Tuesday’s EGM with treasurer Gail Fuller and chair Gena Ashwell to her left. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

She urged attendees at the meeting to “get loud” by writing to the Arts Minister, the Premier and their local MP.

“This organisation is yours to decide its value and relevance for the future,” she said.

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“Maybe the new minister hasn’t realised how valuable this organisation is to the community, so if you value this organisation, tell her, share your stories of how it’s benefited you and how important it is.”

Michaels did not attend last night’s EGM. Mercury CX says she was invited to the event, but this is disputed by Michaels’ office.

In a statement to InDaily, the minister highlighted the $240,000 in funding the South Australian Film Corporation provides to Mercury CX along with the state government’s annual $50,000 grant for the organisation to run the Screenmakers Conference.

She also flagged that support for emerging filmmakers could be provided through other means if Mercury CX closes.

“As an independent organisation, it is up to Mercury CX’s board to run its business in a sustainable way,” Michaels said in a statement.

“The Minister was notified in July that she would be invited to the meeting, however, received no further correspondence from organisers. Nevertheless, the Minister already had accepted an invitation to attend another event.

“Advice to the Minister is that support for emerging film makers can still be made within the current funding levels and if that’s not done by Mercury CX, the Minister is committed to ensuring support continues.”

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.

The decision from the Malinauskas Government to knock back Mercury CX’s $700,000 request was based on a confidential report on Mercury CX’s operations commissioned by the former Marshall Government last year.

The former government gave Mercury CX $300,000 in emergency funding last September to support its ongoing operations while the independent review took place.

The report, which has not been publicly released, found the organisation’s current business model was “unsustainable”, although Mercury CX says the report also concluded the organisation remains an “important part of the eco-system of South Australia’s screen industry”.

A spokesperson for Michaels told InDaily in June that there are “no SA Government funding mechanisms currently available to support Mercury CX’s current operating model”.

“However the Minister is fully supportive of ensuring development opportunities being provided to emerging filmmakers, within the current budget allocation,” the spokesperson said.

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