The U.K.’s insurance scheme for film and television has been extended until April.

Known as the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, the groundbreaking £500 million ($676 million) fund assures productions that they’ll receive financial support in case of COVID-related losses. The program has so far accepted 100 qualifying productions.

The initiative was first revealed over the summer, and began accepting applications in October. While the deadline was initially set at Dec. 31, it was extended to Feb. 28 in October. A two-month extension through April is fitting given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the U.K., where an urgent Tier 4 level of restrictions was introduced over Christmas to combat spiking caseloads. The extra time will give producers the peace of mind to plan ahead for spring shoots.

The government has also expanded the scope of the scheme to cover cast and crew over the age of 70, who were previously excluded from coverage. Productions can now be compensated for COVID-related delays affecting up to two cast or crew members over 70.

Elsewhere, more support is on the way for the country’s embattled exhibition sector, which was dealt a massive blow this week when “Wonder Woman 1984” was able to play on a mere quarter of U.K. screens due to COVID restrictions that have shuttered movie theaters up and down the country.

The U.K. is distributing £16 million ($21.6 million) in grants from its £1.57 billion ($2.1 billion) Culture Recovery Fund among more than 200 independent cinemas across England. Of the U.K.’s 840 cinemas, only 228 are currently open due to coronavirus restrictions. Of these, more may close as the government tightens rules over the holiday period.

The majority of the grant funding allocated by the British Film Institute, which was selected to distribute the money, has been awarded to cinema sites in every corner of the country, from Penrith to Peckham and Penzance, with cinemas outside London benefitting from 78% of funding to date.

One family-run movie theater that’s set to receive combined grants of £121,488 ($164,000) is the Alhambra cinema in Penrith, Cumbria, which will offer the recently released “A Christmas Carol,” featuring Carey Mulligan, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya, to socially-distanced audiences over the holidays.

Alan Towers, partner at Alhambra Penrith, said the grant, “aids us in opening to our local community again, supporting our safe measures of work to provide a comfortable and enjoyable environment for staff and customers alike.”

Other cinemas in cities, towns and rural communities across the country supported by the fund include the Hailsham Pavilion (£55,446/$74,000), the Ilkley Cinema (£204,421/$276,000), the Rex Berkhamsted (£350,332/$473,000), the Merlin Cromer (£69,200/$93,000), the Odyssey in Albans (£120,377/$163,000), the Regal Melton Mowbray (£98,661/$133,000), the Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford (£44,269/$60,000), the Rex Wilmslow (£138,141/$187,000), and the Rio Dalston (£110,296/$149,000).

To date, 202 cinemas have received funding from a £30 million ($40.5 million) pot allocated by the British Film Institute (BFI), on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. More grant applications from independent cinemas are currently being assessed.

Cinemas can apply for another £14 million ($18.9 million) in grants in the new year as part of the second round of the fund. The new round is in addition to the £30 million ($41 million) already being allocated by the BFI.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the latest investment will “help protect our independent cinemas so they’re around for many Christmases to come.”

“Alongside it, the extension of the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme means the U.K. will be producing even more great content as the cinema industry recovers, keeping us at the forefront of the creative industries,” added Dowden.

Admitting he was a “Star Wars” fan, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared there is “no better place to experience great films than in your local cinema and these grants will provide vital support for independent venues through Christmas and beyond.”

A raft of the U.K.’s leading actors also commented on the funding allocation for independent cinemas.

“Batman” and “Tenet” actor Michael Caine noted, “The moving image has the power to change the way we think. The power to inspire; to delight; and to move. It happens to me all the time. Film is one of the most powerful and accessible art forms on earth — and for so many a local cinema is a place we know, love and have grown up with. A cinema is very often a vital part of any community and we need to support them in order to keep the art of film and the sense of community alive. Let’s go to the pictures!”

“How to Build a Girl” and “Black Narcissus” star Gemma Arterton added: “As a child growing up in Gravesend, some of my fondest memories are the magic and wonder I felt going to my local cinema with my Dad. It felt like a special treat — an event. Sadly, that cinema has now closed.

“We have to support our local cinemas to make sure those special moments can be experienced by generations of children and adults alike, for years to come. Watching a film at home just isn’t the same,” said Arterton.

“Supergirl” and “Homeland” actor David Harewood said, “Independent cinemas are so very important to our local communities for the experience they give us all, whether it’s as a cinema goer or as a member of the team. Be it a homegrown British film or an all-time international classic, we’ve all known the magic of seeing a film on the big screen for that very first time and the inspiration it brings.”

https://variety.com/2020/film/global/uk-insurance-scheme-extended-cinema-grants-1234867089/