Cinemas to reopen, but film industry ‘not yet felt full effects of pandemic’

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor

The full effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the film industry have not yet been felt, the head of UK audiences at the BFI has warned as the Government announced cinemas will be allowed to reopen around England from July 4.

Ben Luxford said the reverberations from the crisis will still be felt for a long time, even as cinemas reopen with new socially-distanced seating configurations and staggered film start times.

Multiplexes and smaller screens have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic – and Cineworld, Vue and Picturehouse cinemas have announced plans to reopen on July 10.

Mr Luxford told the PA news agency he welcomed the news, but said difficulties still lie ahead.

He said: “Our whole industry still largely revolves around the cinema, people going to the cinema, so it’s been a huge loss to our industry as well, as to audiences in terms of their everyday life, so opening them again is a huge boost of confidence to our industry to really get back to business.

“We have got the green light for films to start being made again so it’s great that we have got the opportunity to be able to show them to people again as well, so it starts to feel like things can really open up and we can get back to business.”

He added: “It’s been an incredibly tough time and it’s only going to continue to be a tough time. By getting the green light today, although it’s back to business in some senses, I don’t think we have really felt the full effects of this yet.

“Obviously a huge portion of our industry, notably cinema operators but as well as the huge freelance community that we have and rely upon so heavily in the industry, have been hit really hard by this and immediately, but the knock on effects of this are going to continue for a long time.

“And cinema operators have been given the green light to reopen with restrictions and we have modelled it, we have got a really strong sense of what the impact is going to be, but the reality is about when those venues actually reopen their doors and who comes in, how many come in.

“The number of shows is going to reduce significantly, the number of seats they are going to be able to sell, whether people can or will want to buy food and drink in those venues, there is going to be a long long period of rebuilding that goes on in this industry. It’s not without its challenges.”

Cineworld, which has about 100 cinemas around the UK, said it has updated its booking system to ensure social distancing, and adapted its daily movie schedules to manage queues and avoid the build-up of crowds in lobbies.

It also said it has enhanced cleanliness and sanitation procedures across all sites.

Tim Richards, founder and chief executive of Vue International, said the company is confident it can look after staff and customers with “enhanced protocols”.

He added: “By the time we reopen in the UK our methods will have been responsibly and robustly deployed in the real world.

“We have learned how to do this from our operations in Taiwan where we never closed and have successfully operated through pandemics such as Sars in the past; and from our sites in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland and Lithuania where we have recently and successfully reopened to the public.”

The first new films due to be released are expected to be Proxima, starring Eva Green, scheduled for release on July 10, and road rage thriller Unhinged, starring Russell Crowe, which is due for launch on July 17.

Christopher Nolan’s latest offering, Tenet, starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington, is also expected to be released at the end of July.

More than 450 films, including Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Singin’ In The Rain and The Sound Of Music, will be available to cinemas when they reopen to help them entice audiences back.

The films have been collated by the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA) in a document entitled Relaunching Cinema: Content for Recovery.

The list of titles, which also includes 1917, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and recent Oscar winner Parasite, is part of the first stage of cross-industry body Cinema First’s coronavirus recovery strategy.

The opening of cinemas will be made subject to guidelines agreed between the UK Cinema Association and Government officials, which are due to be published later this week.