Covid-19 has not been kind to the movie industry, including cinemas - and Kaitaia's Te Ahu cinema is certainly feeling the pressure.
A few weeks short of its 10th anniversary, it was now entering the zone where Kaitaia would need to use or it lose it, Te Ahu Charitable Trust general manager Mark Osborne said last week.
But it's not the only Northland cinema in trouble with Dargaville's Anzac Theatre also in danger due to lack of numbers.
The Te Ahu cinema was closed during last year's Covid-19 lockdown, reopening under alert levels 2 and 1, but even with no restrictions on audience numbers it had not regained the support it had had before the epidemic.
"The whole movie industry is in trouble, particularly small independent cinemas like Te Ahu," Osborne said, not only because of audience restrictions but because movies weren't being made or distributors weren't releasing them until cinemas were back in business, not in New Zealand but around the world.
"There used to a be a kind of gentlemen's agreement that cinemas could screen new films for 90 days before they were released elsewhere, but now a lot of them are going straight to the market. Some are even going simultaneously to television, but even if they don't do that, people have more options for watching them now than going to a cinema."
The three years prior to 2020 had seen Te Ahu audience numbers growing 10 to 20 per cent year on year, but then Covid arrived, "and zip".
Even when the lockdown ended it was not financially viable to operate the theatre above alert level 1, with audiences limited to 30 as opposed to the pre-Covid full house of 120.
Thirty was the minimum needed to cover costs, but even that wasn't being achieved now. Eight screenings over three days, Friday to Sunday, earlier this month had attracted a total of 34 customers. Two of them attracted none at all.
From the start, Osborne said, school holidays had been key to the cinema's financial success.
"We had 13 weeks to really do well," he said, ''but this summer we had no new movies to screen and glorious weather. It was a disaster. From Boxing Day to January 10, when we should have been really busy, we were getting 10 on a good day. If we had had bad weather they would have been queuing out the door."
The cinema was very affordable, he added, but people had either lost interest in seeing old films or were watching new ones by other means. And while the situation was not yet critical, the trust could not continue subsidising the cinema indefinitely.
"It's costing us $500 to $1000 a week to keep it open, and we can't keep chucking money away like that. And I would be loath to close it temporarily. If we did that it would probably never open again," he said.
Staff were always happy to order specific films on demand or organise events, but the best thing people who valued the cinema could do was to spend $8, take a seat and watch a movie.
The only theatre in Kaipara could close unless more people start going to the cinema.
The Anzac Theatre in Dargaville - like all cinemas throughout New Zealand - has been hard hit by Covid and, although numbers have picked up slightly this summer, it is not enough to ensure its ongoing viability.
Manager Vernon Woods said sales were down between 40 and 50 per cent and the situation was critical.
"In the early stages of Covid, there was uncertainty and people were cautious but the main effect was people got out of the habit of coming to the cinema. There was also a lack of blockbuster films being released. They kept being pushed back in the United States and Europe. It's a community-owned theatre and our appeal is especially to locals to come and support their own cinema," Woods said.
In 2016, the cinema screened The Hunt for the Wilderpeople 22 sessions in a row but has had just one full house since lockdown.
Woods said full-house sessions were possible during school and public holidays.
The cinema opened about eight years ago and has a capacity of 62. It runs four films in the weekend, three on Wednesday and Friday, and two on Thursday.