Less than a month after re-opening on June 26, Barcelona’s cinema theaters have been forced to close once more as part of a stay-at-home rollback by the Generalitat, the government for the Catalan region.
Announced on Friday, July 18, and in place from Saturday, the mandated shutdown is fiercely contested by Barcelona area town halls, adding to a nationwide debate about just how safe it is to go to the cinema.
In radical contrast to Barcelona’s theater shutdown, King Felipe VI of Spain and Queen Letitia were caught on Twitter on Saturday evening attending a movie at a multiplex in Madrid in a gesture of support for Spain’s beleaguered movie distribution and exhibition sectors.
Barcelona police were also obliged on Saturday to shut down a large area of the city’s beaches after sunbathers continued to enjoy fierce summer sun, many without masks or social distancing, despite the Catalan government’s entreaties for them to stay at home.
The Catalan government’s insistence that venues should stop trading affects some 267 cinema theater screens at 28 cinema theaters, representing €63 million ($71.2 million) in total box office grosses in 2019 – about 10% of the total for Spain, Europe’s fifth biggest cinema theater market.
“The cinema closure is a disaster,” Camilo Tarrazón, president of the Catalan Exhibitors Union, told Variety.
In immediate terms, he continued, the loss of cinemas could dissuade distributors’ from opening their bigger titles when these are needed to power up box office.
Also, he added, the shutdown “sends out signals that cinema theaters are not safe when they have scrupulously implemented safety measures, and other forms of leisure that do risk contagion – street parties, for instance – continue in Barcelona.”
Prompting huge frustration among Barcelona exhibitors, the lockdown also comes as Spain’s box office saw the first sign of recovery on July 15 when “Scoob!” opened to a first-day €107,000 ($121,000), powering up total cinema B.O. grosses in the country to 43% above figures for Wednesday a week earlier.
Some 60% of Catalonia’s movie theaters re-opened on June 26 with the city even hosting one of the world’s first onsite festivals, the BCN Film Fest, which attracted 8,000 spectators.
The remainder of Catalonia’s cinema theaters were due to bow early August in time for the Aug. 7 release by Sony Pictures of the second instalment of Santiago Segura’s comedy “Father There Is Only One.”
Now the large question is whether the mayors of Barcelona and hinterland cities can wring an exception for cinema theaters out of the Catalan government. Or whether the government’s threat to turn stay at home recommendations into a mandate will come to pass as COVID-19 continues to resurge in Barcelona.