“Coming soon to a theater near you”? Over a month after they were first allowed to resume business, in phase two of Connecticut’s reopening process, many Connecticut movie theaters remain dark.
It was expected that more cinemas might be open by now, but a series of decisions in the film industry at large — some based on local and national COVID safety guidelines, some on commercial instincts — have led to a more scattered cinematic landscape.
Movie-going and many other “indoor recreation” activities were allowed as part of phase two of the state’s reopening plan. Guidelines included reducing venue capacity to 50%, cleaning thoroughly, following restaurant reopening guidelines for the concession stands and other measures.
Dozens of movie theaters have “self-certified” with the state as part of the reopening process, but have yet to open.
The website for AMC — the largest movie theater chain in the country, with cinemas in Southington, Plainville and elsewhere — has announced that “most” of its theaters will open July 30. No specifics have been released regarding Connecticut cinemas. AMC is following state and local guidelines, but also has its own standards in place, including reducing seating capacity to 30% or less, upgrading HVAC filters and cleaning more frequently and more thoroughly. Changes at the concession stand will include a more limited menu and (to reduce contact) no refills on large popcorns or sodas.
The resurgence of drive-in movie theaters continues amid the indoor closures. Their old-fashioned model of folks staying inside their cars at a spacious outdoor area perfectly fits the needs of the new social distancing age. The Southington Drive-In, which had not yet been able to hold its regular family-friendly movie screenings, due to ongoing negotiations with the town of Southington, has had success with a couple of filmed country music concert events: one with Garth Brooks in June and one on July 25 starring Blake Shelton. Attendees must stay in their vehicles; if they must use the restrooms, masks are required. The concession area is not open.
The Bow Tie Cinemas chain, which has theaters in New Haven, Stamford, Trumbull, New Canaan, Greenwich, Norwalk and South Norwalk, actually reopened in mid-June, only to reclose unexpectedly two weeks later on July 1. One of the reasons given was the lack of major new movie releases to show. Starting with the new James Bond adventure in March, blockbuster after blockbuster has been pushed back on the release schedule. Recently “Tenet,” “Mulan,” “A Quiet Place Part II” and forthcoming installments “Avatar” and “Star Wars” series have all seen their release dates postponed, some by a year or more.
Hollywood, in turn, is reassessing the commercial potential of releasing movies to theaters right now, at a time when home viewing has greatly increased and new streaming services have debuted. Some films originally planned for cinemas, like the animated “Scoob!,:” landed on small screens instead. Others, like “Bill & Ted Face the Music” have changed their marketing plans to a combination of theaters and video on demand options.
Of the cinemas which have reopened in the state, such as the four-screen Niantic Cinemas or The Prospector in Ridgefield, aren’t screening new releases at all, instead opting to show classics like “Ghostbusters” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” That’s true of the drive-in theaters as well: the Pleasant Valley Drive-in in Barkhamsted is showing “Zootopia” and “The Avengers” this weekend.
Some small towns in Connecticut have gotten the drive-in bug and are erecting screens on town land for in-car movie nights. Bethany, for instance, is screening “Back to the Future” on a giant screen in the town’s Airport Field on Aug. 15.
Hartford’s Real Art Ways reopened its gallery space this week, but is waiting to reopen its cinema. RAW’s Executive Director Will K. Wilkins says he is a member of The Art House Convergence, a national organization dedicated to (as its website puts it) “advancing excellence and sustainability in community-based, mission-driven media exhibition.”
Wilkins says that in a time of such uncertainty, basic survival is an issue for many small cinemas right now.
“Some of the them just have no money to survive. That’s hard. Others, including us, are mission-driven and have a community that really wants them. Our fundraising is up 10% over last year. When we show a movie, we put community organizing chops into it. That explains why we now have over 3000 members.” The memberships, which start at $65 for individuals, support special events and educational programs at Real Art Ways; member benefits include reduced admission fees and free popcorn on your birthday.
RAW’s gradual indoor reopening involves social distancing strategies and “looking at our HVAC systems and air filtration,” Wilkins says. In the meantime, it is planning to start showing films outdoors at its Asylum Street location in August, though dates and film titles have yet to be revealed. RAW is also hosting a screening of “I Am Not Your Negro,” the recent documentary about James Baldwin, Aug. 8 at 8:15 p.m. at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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