As North American cinemas carefully reopen, the first film people will see may be Canadian

作者:admin 2020-06-13

For three months now, as movies large and small have shifted their release dates into the fall or even next year, or moved to streaming services, one tentpole remained resolute. Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s latest $200-million-plus science fiction blockbuster, was set to open July 17, come hell or high fever.

Critics and film-lovers started to look to at that date as a line in the sand. Which global juggernaut would blink first, Hollywood or COVID-19?

Last week saw movement on both fronts. Cases of coronavirus seem to have peaked in many countries, especially in Europe, although a second wave remains a constant fear. And several North American jurisdictions, including Alberta and California, were given governmental go-ahead to reopen movie houses as of June 12, albeit with stringent cleaning measures and social distancing.

Oh, and a rom-com called The Broken Hearts Gallery, shot in Toronto and directed by Canadian-born Natalie Krinsky, announced it would open in theatres across North America on July 10, one week before Tenet, making it the first major-studio release of the pandemic age.

If all goes well and cinemas comes back to life as planned, a Canadian will lead them.

There’s never been a cold restart of the industry before

“When you’re a filmmaker you make the movie to be seen in a cinema,” says David Gross, one of the Canadian producers of the new film. “We just think there’s an opening. This is a happy, feel-good movie that is a counterpoint to the present circumstances.”

Gross, whose other credits include hit Canadians films and co-productions like Room, The F Word and Goon, stresses he wasn’t the one making the call when to release the film. That would be Sony Pictures in the U.S. and Elevation Pictures in Canada, which are keeping a close eye on cinemas’ plans to reopen.

“They’re getting more bullish by the day,” he says. “By the time Tenet opens they’ll have most if not all of their theatres open again. Sony and Elevation thought that they wanted to get ahead of it.”

It’s a risky gambit but it could pay off. When theatres re-open, they’ll be starved for new content. Cinephiles, even those desperate for the smell of popcorn and the feel of the big screen, may balk at returning for a rerun of Back to the Future, say.

But a crowd-pleaser like The Broken Hearts Gallery, about a lovelorn 20-something “emotional hoarder,” (Geraldine Viswanathan) who creates a pop-up gallery in memory of past relationships? In normal times, in a crowded marketplace, it might play well for two weeks until the next new thing. In 2020, even up against Tenet, it could run for six weeks, eight weeks or more. Gross references movies like 2007’s Juno or 2009’s (500) Days of Summer that had a slow, word-of-mouth build to critical and box-office success.

But no one knows for sure. There’s never been a cold restart of the industry before. “I think they’re playing the long game,” Gross says of the studios. “And we have an exciting opportunity with this feel-good movie to support the theatres in getting their business up and running again.”

The cinema-going experience will look different in the near future, with social distancing measures and a cap on how many people can gather indoors. In the U.S., AMC says it plans to have more than 95 per cent of its theatres open by mid-July. A representative for Canada’s Cineplex chain had no firm date and few specifics except the important message that safety of employees and guests alike remains its top priority.

Dan Smith, executive director of Edmonton’s Metro Cinema, says his venue isn’t ready to open yet, but the day is coming. “We’re prepping the theatre, getting ready,” he says. “We do not have a date set yet.”

The Metro has 521 seats, but Alberta regulations will cap attendance at 100. “We have lots of space to work with,” says Smith. “I’m confident we can fit 100 patrons in the auditorium at a social distance.” That will include single seats as well as space for couples and families.

“Movies are a date night a lot of the time,” he says. “We’re going to ensure there’s seating for that. Everyone is craving some certainty, and this is a step toward certainty in everyone’s lives.”

Further west, The Vic became the first Canadian cinema to reopen on June 12. Kathy Kay, festival director for the theatre, says the 213-seat venue will follow provincial guidelines with just 50 occupied seats, staggered for social distancing.

She’s asking patrons to buy tickets ahead of time if possible, and to pre-order their concession fare. They’ll be given reserved seating at the ends of one row, then the middle of the next, the ends of the next, and so on. Arrows on the ground will direct people, who will enter the front of the cinema and exit at the back, “so there’s no crossing back through.”

Located in downtown Victoria, The Vic stocks its concession stand with products from Driftwood Brewery, Phillips Soda Works and other local producers. “It’s familiar,” says Kay. “So we wanted to get it open as soon as we could and it was safe to do so.”

In the absence of any new releases, The Vic will be screening three films this week with a theme of travel: the new Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon road trip comedy The Trip to Greece; the 2016 French comedy Lost in Paris; and The World Before Your Feet, a 2018 documentary about a man who set out to walk every block of every street in New York City, a journey of more than 12,000 kms. Says Kay: “You can’t travel now so let’s enjoy that in your mind.”


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