It’s been nearly a year since New York City first went into lockdown, and the last movie I went out to see was Dolittle, so you could say I’ve been eagerly waiting for the moment to step into a theater.
And now, rejoice! Governor Cuomo has declared that starting March 5, movie theaters can open at 25% capacity, with no more than 50 people per screen. Social distancing and mask wearing will still be in effect, but this is the first step toward what some have said should have occurred back in October, when theaters outside of the city were allowed to reopen. All 13 AMC locations in town are prepared to reopen with concessions available. Some of the city’s independent theaters, however, aren’t so sure they’ll be able to reopen in time.
Film Forum, on West Houston Street, has set an opening date of April 2, and will continue to stream new and repertory films online in the meantime. Nick Nicolaou, the owner of Cinema Village in Greenwich Village, said that while his theater “was prepared to reopen through 2020,” their relaunch has been postponed to April 2 after devastating water damage from a frozen water pipe burst. Metrograph, in the Lower East Side, has yet to announce an opening date, and is looking at “safety and logistical details” before announcing a plan. The theater says that its online programming– which currently includes a David Fincher series– will continue alongside its in-person offerings in the future. Others, like Alamo Drafthouse and Quad Cinema, have yet to announce opening dates.
Anthology Film Archives, in the East Village, has also announced via its newsletter that it is “not planning to rush to reopen. Given the current COVID numbers in NYC, and the desire to work carefully and conscientiously towards the protocols necessary to keep our audiences and staff safe, we’ll be taking it slow, keeping an eye on the situation as vaccinations proceed, and forming a game-plan for the coming months.”
When theaters first closed in March, they hoped, like all businesses, that the closure wouldn’t last long. Months into the crisis, after theaters were allowed to open elsewhere in New York state but not in the city, a group of eight theater and comedy clubs sued Cuomo over the loss of their “right to work, right to contract, and right to engage in commerce.” With casinos and gyms reopening, they argued that operating a venue with less than 200 seats would be perfectly safe and manageable. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in October that “if movies aren’t getting released because New York isn’t open, that affects the movie industry and its employees all over the world.”
The parent company of Regal Cinemas (which has yet to announce its reopening plan in the city) announced in October the “impending closure of all 536 theaters” they operated, due to sustained closures of locations nationwide. The Alamo Drafthouse chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the pandemic, and was recently sold to Altamont Capital Partners, in a move to save the chain from the loss of assets in 2020.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom for the indie theater scene: IFC Center in Greenwich Village has changed its marquee to announce that it will open as planned March 5 (but with no concessions, or eating or drinking in theaters). Others, like Village East Cinema, have put up showtimes for the first time in months. That theater, previously run by City Cinemas, will reopen under the arm of Angelika Film Center, a chain whose Houston Street location will also reopen March 5. . In Bushwick, Syndicated, a bar-restaurant-theater that has been screening outdoor movies against its exterior wall, will also reopen March 5, initially screening Oscar hopefuls (e.g. Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Tenet) that have already been in theaters elsewhere in the tri-state area. Another dine-in theater, Nitehawk, has also posted its slate for March 5, with showings of potential Oscar contenders Minari and Nomadland already sold out at its Williamsburg location. Both of Nitehawk’s locations will continue to offer table service, though its new safety protocols ask diners to view the menu on their phones and write down their orders in order to limit their verbal interactions with servers.
With New York reopening and theaters returning (not to mention the return of the Queens Drive-In), the light at the end of the tunnel is looking more and more like a title card.