Several independent cinemas across England are taking a safety-first approach and plan to open fully only in September — an approach which, in light of recent headaches facing multiplexes, appears to have been a wise decision.
Cinemas are allowed to reopen from July 4 after being shuttered for nearly four months due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, among the multiplex chains, the repeated release delays of “Tenet” and “Mulan” prompted Cineworld on Tuesday to move its reopening date from July 10 to July 31. While Odeon will stay the course in a phased reopening of cinemas from July 4, as planned, Vue is understood to be deliberating the feasibility of its own July 10 reopening.
England’s independent cinemas are facing a unique set of issues. Most recognized early on that their reopening schedule would need to be different. For independent venues, footfall is markedly linked to customer confidence — a reality complicated by the fact that face coverings are not mandatory for customers and required social distancing is now one meter.
As it stands, some independent cinemas, like London’s Rio, described by actor, filmmaker and BFI Governor Idris Elba as “my church” in an essay in The Times, are fighting for survival.
“There are hundreds of independent cinemas like the Rio up and down the country,” Elba wrote. “Many of them are lifelines for their communities, and now many of them are in real danger of going out of business at the very moment they should be opening their doors for the first time since March.”
“Without additional funding from the government, many smaller cinemas, including BFI Southbank, just can’t afford to reopen; for many towns that means losing the beating heart of their community,” Elba wrote.
Independent cinemas waiting until September to reopen include the Rio, Manchester’s Home, London’s Lexi Cinema, Ipswich Film Theatre, Bristol’s Watershed, Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema, Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema, Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Tyneside Cinema and Oxford’s Ultimate Pic Palace.
The Lexi is targeting a soft opening in August for private hires, ahead of public screenings in September. “Opening for small hires in August will be a good opportunity for people to come to the cinema within known groups they feel comfortable with, and it’ll also be a chance for our team to get familiar with the new protocols,” Lexi general manager Rosie Greatorex told Variety. “Safety is paramount, but we also want to reopen with an environment where our team, volunteers and audience are able to relax and enjoy being at the cinema.”
Films available for family hire at the Lexi in August include “Early Man,” “Totoro” and “The BFG,” while “Booksmart,” “Queen & Slim,” “Loving Vincent” and “Moonlight” will be available for adult hires.
The one-meter rule allows Home to operate at 30% capacity, with “a reduction in the amount of times we can screen daily, due to the need for increased sanitization between screenings,” Jason Wood, creative director of film and culture for Home, told Variety.
The impact on Home is greater than on standalone cinemas, as it also operates a theater and art gallery. The Home cinemas, bars and restaurant will reopen Sept. 4, with the theater and gallery in the weeks to come, depending on government guidelines. Whatever the attendance, overheads remain constant.
“Overall, this leaves the organization looking at a circa £1.1 million ($1.36 million) deficit,” said Wood. Home is setting up a panel, including audience members, to explore the modalities of reopening that will discuss additional safety measures and approaches to programming that will factor in societal movements such as Black Lives Matter.
“The safety and wellbeing of staff and of the audience is paramount, which is why we have taken, along with many other independent venues, the decision to open later, in September,” says Wood. “This enables us to get every decision right, to put together an exciting program and to retain the confidence of all those working and visiting the venue.”
London’s Genesis Cinema, on the other hand, is planning to reopen July 4 with a Black Lives Matter season including “Do The Right Thing,” “BlacKkKlansman” and “Queen & Slim”; a Christopher Nolan season featuring “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception” and “Dunkirk,” and a mix of titles that were performing well when they closed, including “Parasite” and “Knives Out.” New titles like “Unhinged,” “Mulan” and “Tenet” will be programmed as soon as they become available.
Genesis director Tyrone Walker-Hebborn expects to operate at 50-60% capacity, which will allow him to break even or turn a small profit. “We feel that the people who are going to come out and form our audience initially are going to be the part of the population who have less anxiety about the current situation,” said Walker-Hebborn.
“But maybe there will be an increase in the number of people who want to give it a few weeks to see how new rules affect the infection rates before going to any indoor spaces,” he added cautiously.