Cinemas in a number of German states are set to reopen in May after being shuttered since mid-March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the decision has led to complications for theater owners.
North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state with 17.5 million inhabitants, was first to announce that it would allow theaters to re-open on May 30. Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein followed suit with planned reopenings on May 18.
Germany began reopening some non-essential shops on April 20 and, following a conference on Wednesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel, state leaders agreed to independently ease restrictions further throughout May.
The country’s federal system, like in the U.S., gives state governments a great deal of power. Coupled with the fact that the intensity of the pandemic has varied from state to state, regional efforts to ease lockdowns differ in terms of timelines.
Christian Bräuer, chair of the AG Kino independent cinema association and managing director of Berlin’s Yorck-Kino group, welcomes the fact that state leaders are now dealing with the exhibition sector, but he notes that the situation is “not easy. It’s a complex market. It’s not like you can just call a supermarket and get a pallet delivered the next day.”
A dearth of films, lack of detailed safety guidelines from the individual states and so far no real coordination between theater owners and film distributors across the country have all made the prospect of reopening cinemas a complicated matter.
Merkel on Wednesday announced a relaxing of regulations in some areas, such as shops, schools, outdoor protests and religious services as long as a 1.5-meter distance between people is observed, but states will decide independently on the reopening of cinemas, theaters, restaurants and other places of social gathering.
The 1.5-meter distance guideline may prove too costly for both film distributors and cinemas, which could see total capacity drops of 70% to 75% due to the regulations.
“We need a coordinated plan that includes a timeline and conditions,” Bräuer stressed. “You can’t have five states in Germany where cinemas are open and 11 where they are not open. It’s not good if it continues like that for several weeks. It’s positive news that cinemas can start again, but there are just too many unknowns.”
Bräuer added that open-air cinemas could begin operation soon, with the entire exhib market ideally following in mid-June. That would provide enough time for cinemas and film distributors to prepare. All of Germany’s 16 states would have to be in agreement, however.
The situations in the U.S. and other European countries will also play a deciding factor, Bräuer stressed. German cinemas will not be showing Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” scheduled for release in Germany on July 16, or Disney’s “Mulan,” due out on July 23, before their releases Stateside, he noted.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has battered the German economy, the country has managed the crisis better than many other countries and government leaders have been eager yet cautious about easing the lockdown.
“We have achieved the goal of slowing the spread of the virus … because our citizens have behaved responsibly and saved the lives of others,” Merkel said Wednesday.
To date, there have been a total of 166,091 confirmed cases and 7,119 deaths in Germany.