Flu keeps Mexico cautious

Theatergoers to sit seven feet apart

Theaters may have reopened in Mexico, but cautious government health officials are requiring movie patrons to sit seven feet apart, crippling the exhibition business there just as Hollywood summer tentpoles begin to roll out.

By Thursday morning, all theaters in Mexico were cleared to reopen after going dark because of the flu outbreak. But it will hardly be business as usual.

Theater employees will be required to wear masks and gloves if they are handling food, scrutinize customers for flu-like symptoms, offer antibacterial gel to ticket holders and thoroughly clean theaters with detergent or bleach after each screening.

Studios have already rearranged their summer release plans for Mexico because of theater closings, and they may have to do so again because of the strict regs.

Twentieth Century Fox has said it will not release “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” on May 15 as planned. Film was originally set to open on April 28, but that changed when theaters were closed because of the flu outbreak.

National Film Chamber Canacine says theater owners have already lost at least $20 million because of the closings, which began 11 days ago.

Canacine director Alejandro Ramirez says that number rises to $24 million when including lost wages and other indirect costs. Imposing the seven-foot restriction will, of course, limit B.O.

Jean Pierre Leleu, president of Cinemark Mexico and Latin America, told local media: “Health comes first … (but) to admit only 36 people to a theater, that creates a business problem.”

He also said it is very difficult for families who want to sit together.

Canacine is in talks with government officials about the impact the regulations will have on the box office.

Mexico is a critical territory for Hollywood studios, whose big event pics can earn many millions of dollars in the territory.

When Fox moved “Wolverine” to May, it caused a domino effect. Paramount said it was moving “Star Trek” from May 8 to June 5, while Sony moved “Angels and Demons” from May 15 to June 12. It’s unclear whether “Star Trek” will be pushed back again as well.

Sony said “Angels” was staying in the June 12 slot, situation permitting.

Fox said it expects to announce a new date for “Wolverine’s” Mexico launch by Monday. Mexico has been one of the top-performing territories for the “X-Men” franchise.

As the release calendar stands now, “Terminator: Salvation” has moved from June 5 to July 31; “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” from Friday to June 12; “Earth” from April 30 to May 15; and “Hannah Montana: The Movie” from April 30 to May 22. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is still set for July 15.

Cary Fukunaga’s Sundance sensation “Sin nombre” was set to bow April 30; it will now preem May 15, but that could change.

Tarahumara-language drama “Cochochi” — released by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal’s Canana Films — was only in theaters for two days before the closures, and it is unclear whether it will reappear.

Roberto Rochin’s “Pergatorio” has been moved to June, and Morelia best doc winner “Trazando Aleida” (Tracing Aleida) may or may not come out as planned this weekend; likewise for Amat Escalante’s “Los bastardos.”