Here's what to expect when visiting movie theatres now open in Ontario
Movie theatres in Ontario are slowly starting to light back up with bright stars and blockbuster features. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cinemas large and small have upped their cleaning and safety measures, and crowds are trickling in.
For the first time since Cineplex theatres closed in March, new Hollywood are now gracing Canada's big screens. As of this past Friday, movie-goers across the country can now see new releases The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run as well as Unhinged.
The return of new summer blockbusters also means a return to regular ticket pricing, Cineplex says.
Sarah Van Lange, executive director of communications for Cineplex, says the company took a "very phased approach to reopening." Its first theatres reopened in Alberta in late June.
Now, Van Lange says that more than 80 per cent of the company's theatres are open across the country, with the remaining locations expected to open by next weekend.
Each theatre has slightly different protocols, because Van Lange says, "not one of our 164 theatres is exactly the same, it really took us a lot of time to figure out on a case-by-case, location-by-location basis what the practices were going to be."
"Our top priority is absolutely the health and safety of our team and our guests."
Van Lange says returning film buffs can expect reserved seating and reduced capacity by up to 60 to 80 per cent, with every other row left empty.
However, getting in and out of theatres will take more time, she says, as physical-distancing is being enforced on-site.
A symptom-free policy is in place at Cineplex theatres, and patrons are able to get refunds on pre-booked tickets if they are not feeling well enough to attend.
While limitations on concession services and arcade games vary depending on location, all theatres have upped their cleaning and sanitization frequency.
So far, Van Lange says they have not encountered any patrons flouting guidelines.
A full list of COVID-19 rules that movie-goers can expect during their visit is available on the Cineplex website.
While Cineplex began reopening its theatres about six weeks ago, some of smaller independent cinemas in Toronto and the GTA have taken longer to welcome the public back.
The Royal is continuing its online showings and keeping its physical location closed, while the Revue has plans to reopen this fall, according to its website. The Fox Theatre in the Beaches officially reopened on Aug. 7 after going dark in mid-March.
A message from your friendly neighbourhood award-winning non-profit community cinema: pic.twitter.com/4VoVxsAYKx— Revue Cinema (@RevueCinema) July 30, 2020
"We took a lot of time thinking and focusing on how we could make it as safe as possible, and make people as comfortable as possible at the same time," says Daniel Demois, co-owner of the Fox and Kitchener's Apollo Cinema. "We're excited to be open."
"We want people to be safe," Demois says. "Going to the movies is supposed to be a place where you can kind of relax."
The Fox currently has a limited capacity of 50 people, and has nearly sold out its reserved seating multiple times since reopening last Friday, Demois says.
Showtimes have also been shifted to allow for increased cleaning and avoid crowds. Masks are required unless eating or drinking. The Fox has a full list of COVID-19 rules on their website.
Due to a lack of new releases, Demois says the Fox has had to be creative with film selection, picking older titles, classics and more indie art films than the typical lineup. For example, 2019's Portrait of a Lady on Fire is "still doing OK five or six months later."
Demois says the overwhelming majority of patrons that responded to their reopening surveys were "ready to get back in to the theatre" after months without a movie night.
"The community support has been great. It really was eye-opening in terms of how important the theatre is to the neighbourhood."
Some film fans have been hesitant to return to the larger theatres, but have been quick to take their seats at smaller venues. Amber Dewar and Lauren Oldfield visited The Playhouse Cinema in Hamilton, Ont., for a showing of "The Thing" last weekend.
It was a strange experience visiting a theatre during a pandemic, they said, but neither felt unsafe sitting six feet apart from about 20 or so other patrons sitting in pairs.
"It was kinda weird," Oldfield says. It was odd, but oddly enjoyable.
"I thought it was almost better than the regular experience because you didn't have to worry that someone was going to sit beside you and chew loudly," Dewar says. To her, it was basically the same, except "you just don't have to worry about sharing an armrest."
"I love going to the cinema, so it just felt good to be back there."
The Playhouse has reduced its capacity by 82 per cent to just 50 people, encouraged guests to book tickets online and reduced showtimes to accomodate increased cleaning and sanitizing efforts.
Despite the slower pace leaving the theatre due to social distancing and the usual post-film bathroom rush, Dewar and Oldfield each gave the pandemic viewing experience 5/5 stars.
However, they said that they would stick to small theatres and avoid large chains like Cineplex, and the larger crowds they attract.
In order to remain open as 2020 drags on, Van Lange says Cineplex will be "continuing to keep a really strong pulse on COVID-19 and keeping close contact with local health authorities, as well as municipalities, to make sure that we're following everything to the letter."
"There is a really rich stockpile of awesome titles that are going to be coming out," she said.
For some movie lovers, though, it's not just the titles they missed but the theatre experience itself. And they're glad to be back.
"After five months, six months at home it just reminds you how magical it is to see a movie on the big screen after being absent for so long," Demois says. "It really is a special thing."
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