Movie theaters in Norway will be allowed to reopen on Friday after a near two-month shutdown, but drastic sanitary measures and a dearth of new films means many cinemas are staying closed.
Approved last week, the government’s decision to jump-start theaters caught exhibitors by surprise, and many haven’t had enough time to get prepared, meaning “it will be a soft launch,” according to Ivar Halstvedt, who previously ran the SF Kino and Odeon cinema chains in Norway, and has been advising the exhibitors’ body Film & Kino.
The current health guidelines are limiting admissions to 50 people per screen, with a minimum of one meter in between each patron, and one in every two rows remaining empty.
“That means that in an auditorium of 200 seats, only 50 tickets can be sold,” said Jan Langlo, who heads the country’s network of cinematheques on behalf of the Norwegian Film Institute. The cinematheque in Oslo is set to open one of its screens this weekend with Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir,” and classics like “Casablanca” and “Harold and Maude,” among others.
Meanwhile, groups of five people will be allowed into theaters on the condition that they live in the same household, explained Truls Foss, head of programming at Vega Scene, a three-screen arthouse theater in Oslo that is one of the few venues that will reopen.
“We’ll only be opening our big screen of 191 seats, since our two smaller auditoriums of 74 seats couldn’t welcome more than 19-20 people under the guidelines,” said Foss.
Vega Scene will be open from Friday to Sunday and again from Thursday to Saturday next week with a slate of nine movies, including returning titles such as “Waves,” “Parasite,” “The Farewell,” and the Norwegian premiere of Roy Andersson’s “About Endlessness,” as well as two sneak premieres of Frelle Petersen’s Danish drama “Uncle,” and the Japanese animated feature “Weathering with You.”
“It’s going to be a huge loss in terms of ticket sales, but we want to try it out and see how the new conditions work…Eventually, we’ll all reopen, so we’re just testing the waters before the big chains open,” said Foss, who hopes the government will increase the cap on admissions per screen from 50 to 200 people in a couple of weeks.
The country’s two main cinema circuits, Nordisk Film and the AMC-owned Odeon Kino, which represented a 27.2% and 29.3% market share, respectively, in 2019 will remain for the most part shuttered for at least several weeks.
Out of Nordisk Film’s 21 cinemas, only one venue in Oslo will reopen on Friday with 50% of its staff. Odeon Kino, meanwhile, will keep its nine theaters shuttered until the summer. Two theaters that are partly controlled by Odeon and local municipalities will open in Stavanger this week and in Bergen next week.
“We are making good progress on plans for reopening our cinemas…As part of these plans, any large scale reopening of our cinemas will be dependent on having a strong film slate in place for our guests to enjoy, and currently this begins with ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mulan’ in July,” said Jon Einar Sivertsen, the regional commercial director for Odeon Kino.
Nordisk Film’s CEO Jannicke Haugen said that if “everything goes according to plan,” Nordisk Film will open an additional 11 cinemas by May 15. “It will take a while, though, before all 21 of our Norwegian cinemas are open again,” said the executive.
Week one programming for the single Nordisk Film cinema that will open will have a combination of old and new films, some of which are already available to stream, including “The Farewell,” “Emma,” “Bloodshot,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Gentlemen,” “Parasite,” “Sonic,” “Onward” and “Spies in Disguise.”
“Of course, it is important there are strong, new films in our cinemas. Right now, many film distributors are holding back and waiting for more territories to open around the world before releasing their new titles,” said Haugen.
“I am not worried about there not being enough films for the future, but we could end up with a situation where the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 is totally packed with new films,” said the veteran exhibitor.
Haugen said she urged “distributors to release some of their bigger titles during the summer to drive more guests to cinemas when we are opening again.”