Movie theatres in New York City reopen Friday after nearly a year of cobwebs, restoring film titles to Manhattan marquees that had previously read messages like “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.” Holly Stillman was emotional shortly after noon at the Angelika Film Centre on Houston Street, having just seen Lee Isaac Chung’s tender family drama Minari for the first time in New York. “My mask is soaked,” she said.
She was similarly astounded to be back in a movie theatre. Despite Stillman’s fears that the COVID-19 protocols would make the experience too limited, she found it to be euphoric. “It was just you and the movie screen,” Stillman said. “It was great to smell popcorn as soon as I walked into the theatre, even though I don’t eat it.”
Only about half of movie theatres are open nationally, but the number of reopenings is increasing. Many other theatres reopened around the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet last summer, but that attempt at a revival failed. Theatres in the five boroughs remained closed throughout. One of the world’s most important film centres remained dark for almost a year.
The resumption of moviegoing in New York — whether for a theatrical industry that has been harmed by the pandemic or for a theatrical business that has been harmed by the pandemic — is a critical first step toward revival. “It’s a watershed moment,” Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics in New York, said of the release of The Father and The Truffle Hunters in Manhattan theatres on Friday. “It exudes trust in the theatrical industry.” “It suggests that the theatrical atmosphere has a chance to reactivate,” says the author.
The city’s cinemas are currently only running at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people per auditorium. Masks are needed, seats are blocked out, and air filters have been upgraded, as in other areas.
One of the biggest movie markets, along with Los Angeles (where theatres are already closed), is New York. It’s a crucial epicentre of word-of-mouth for smaller films. It’s a necessary evil for blockbusters. Hollywood studios have moved most of their larger productions before more theatres open, or they’ve steered films to streaming platforms, without New York or Los Angeles open.
Herman joked, “I’m one of the few people who doesn’t have Netflix.” “I’m not a follower of tradition.” I’ve been a big theatre fan since the first time I saw E.T. It won’t be the same, but sitting in front of this computer gives me the impression that things will quickly return to normal.”