Although movie theaters in most of New York State were allowed to reopen in October, those in its filmgoing capital, New York City, remained closed because of the pandemic. But early last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave cinemas in the five boroughs the go-ahead, setting an opening date of March 5.
Not all theaters are choosing to reopen just yet. Those that do must follow certain guidelines: They are limited to 25 percent of capacity, and an audience cannot exceed 50 people. Moviegoers must wear masks when not eating and must have assigned seats.
Certain chains have opened around the country under comparable strictures. AMC plans to open all its theaters this weekend in the city, the country’s second-largest movie market; Regal is holding off until the top market, Los Angeles, reopens. But the guidelines pose special difficulties for New York’s independent theaters and art houses. Below is a roundup of which plan to return on Friday or in the near future and which will stay shut for now.
ANGELIKA FILM CENTER In the last two decades, Angelika Film Centers have sprung up around the country, but the original Houston Street location, managed by the chain Reading International, will reopen Friday. So will Reading’s two other theaters in the city, the Cinema 1, 2, 3 and the Village East, which have been folded into the Angelika brand and now sell tickets on the same website.
“We strongly feel that reopening our cinemas, albeit at a reduced capacity, starts bringing back folks into our cinemas,” Scott Rosemann, the eastern division manager at Reading, said, even if operating now may not generate profits for a while.
When you make a purchase online or at a kiosk, the seats surrounding yours will be automatically blocked off to maintain social distance. The theater and its cafe will remain cashless for now to reduce touch points. All screenings will have “preshow greetings” to remind moviegoers of protocols.
This weekend, the Angelika will show the likely Oscar contenders “Minari” and “Nomandland,” while Village East will show “Tenet” on 70-millimeter film.
IFC CENTER The Greenwich Village theater opens Friday with a robust lineup that includes first-run titles (“My Salinger Year,” “La Llorona,” “The Vigil”); opportunities to catch Netflix features like “Da 5 Bloods” and “Mank” theatrically; and two monthlong series, one called What’d We Miss, featuring acclaimed titles from last year (“Collective,” “Kajillionaire”), and another commemorating the 20th year of IFC Films.
“I think everybody was caught a little by surprise by the timing of the announcement” by the governor, said John Vanco, the senior vice president and general manager of the center. The expectation, he said, had been that theaters would open in late spring or summer, and much of the lineup came together over the last week.
Some of the rules are similar to other theaters’. But IFC will keep its concession stand closed. In addition, some showtimes will have cheaper tickets to encourage moviegoers to attend at nonpeak times.
In perhaps its most distinctive pandemic adjustment, the theater has opted to start features precisely at the listed showtime; if you want to watch the trailers and a short film, arrive early. “We just want people to have kind of control,” Vanco said. “You can see on our website how long a movie is. We run a short film before every feature, and we run trailers like other theaters do, and we would love you to see that stuff. But if you just want to get in and get out,” that’s now possible.
NITEHAWK CINEMA These Brooklyn dine-in theaters — in Prospect Park and Williamsburg — are reopening as cinemas on Friday, but they had already reopened as restaurants. “That’s kind of why, even with the short notice, we’ve been able to ramp up to open for the theaters, because it really doesn’t take that many more people to start serving in the theaters,” said Matthew Viragh, Nitehawk’s founder and executive director. Another advantage: The vaccine is available to restaurant workers.
Every other row has been blocked off, Viragh said, “and then within the active rows, if you select a seat and purchase those tickets, two seats on either side of you will be blocked off.” At the larger Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park, only five of seven screens will be operational, to make sanitizing the space easier, and both locations will be closed on Mondays for additional deep cleaning. Patrons will be subject to temperature checks, something Viragh said the theaters had been doing for indoor dining. Anyone who has a temperature or is feeling unwell can get a credit.
QUAD CINEMA This Greenwich Village theater is reopening Friday with “My Zoe,” “Night of the Kings,” “Supernova” and “The World to Come.” Revival programming, which the Quad had typically put on one of its four screens, will come later, said Charles S. Cohen, the real estate developer who owns the cinema.
The precautions will follow government recommendations and will be “pretty much along the lines of what every other theater is doing,” he added. Concessions will be available.
Cohen also owns the national chain Landmark, which began opening theaters in August. (The Landmark at 57 West in Manhattan closed for good during the pandemic, a shuttering Cohen attributed to a combination of causes.) The capacity issues in the short term do not faze him. “There are films that need to reach an audience, and we are doing what we can to present those films to the filmgoing community that we think very much enjoys film in a theater,” he said.
Still, another of his ventures, the distributor Cohen Media Group, has a backlog of 10 films. The holdup? Waiting for theaters in Los Angeles to return.
ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE The Downtown Brooklyn location of the dine-in chain has no date for reopening yet, but it will happen in the “very near future,” said Tim League, a founder and executive chairman of the company, based in Austin, Tex. (Separately, the company announced this week that it had filed for Chapter 11 and was undergoing a major financial restructuring, but an Alamo spokesman said that would affect neither the reopening date nor the continued development of new theaters in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island.)
“We have started the opening process,” League said of the Brooklyn location. “It’s just a little more complicated for us because we have a big kitchen facility. We have a lot of hiring to do, and we’ve implemented some safety protocols.”
Alamo has opened several of its locations across the country at some point since theater closures last March, and it has posted guidelines for moviegoers online. There hasn’t been much change in the number of patrons ordering food, League said, but there have been some changes in the service. The theaters have a reduced menu intended to maintain social distancing for the kitchen staff. Food can be ordered online in advance; pint glasses now have paper lids and silverware is sealed. Of staff training, League said, “We’re treating it like a new venue opening every time we do this.”
ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES The city’s premier experimental-film venue, located in the East Village, has no firm date for reopening yet. “We’re going to sort of take it slow and take a wait-and-see approach,” Jed Rapfogel, the theater’s programmer, said, noting that the organization is keeping an eye on factors like the spread of new Covid-19 variants and the availability of vaccines. “I think the first thing that will most likely happen will be one screening a week or a couple screenings a week.”
When theaters shut down last March, Anthology had just sent its program notes for the following three months to the printer. Rapfogel still hopes to play some of what was on that “ghost calendar,” including a near complete retrospective of the filmmaker Michael Snow — a “long overdue and major event,” Rapfogel said. But some series, he said, “you don’t want to present until you can have 100 percent capacity.” The theater’s online screening program, which has had many free offerings, remains active.
BAM “A reopening date is yet to be determined,” Lindsay Brayton, a spokeswoman for this Brooklyn institution’s film division, said by email. “We’re looking forward to opening with the highest level of safety in place.”
FILM AT LINCOLN CENTER “We expect a spring opening will be possible — I can’t tell you if that means April, May or June,” said Dennis Lim, the director of programming for Film at Lincoln Center and the New York Film Festival. The lack of a firm date is a function of several factors. The organization has three screens in two buildings; it is also part of the larger Lincoln Center campus, which remains mostly closed. In addition to making sure that staff can return to work safely, Lim said, “we’re getting feedback from our members about their comfort levels at this stage.”
The lineup for the organization’s virtual cinema is mapped out for the next several months; some films could play on both the digital platform and theatrically after the reopening. Down the road, moviegoers may have a chance to top off last fall’s largely virtual New York Film Festival with selections that didn’t make sense to show online: “The Works and Days,” which runs eight hours, and a restoration of the Polish classic “The Hourglass Sanatorium.”
FILM FORUM This is the only nonprofit theater in the city that gave a specific date for reopening: April 2. The programming at the Greenwich Village cinema will include “The Truffle Hunters” and the new Pedro Almodóvar short “The Human Voice,” showing with his 1988 film, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” There will also be a revival of Federico Fellini’s “La Strada.”
Karen Cooper, Film Forum’s director, said upgraded HVAC filters had been installed, and the ticketing system had been reprogrammed so that moviegoers can reserve seats online. The concession stand will be closed, and masks must be worn at all times. Expect industrial-strength rubber bands to prevent you from sitting where you shouldn’t.
Cooper acknowledged the drawbacks of the state’s 25 percent-capacity restriction. “It’s totally not economical,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a bigger money-loser to be open than to be closed. But the bottom line is, we’re a nonprofit. We exist for a purpose. We really believe that our job is to show these movies.”
The expansive retrospectives for which Film Forum is famous will have to take a back seat for now, though. “You really can’t show a 40-film festival over a three-week period to houses that are 25 percent capacity,” Cooper said. Also, many archives around the world remain closed.
But at least one series disrupted by the pandemic has a chance at a reprise, she said: 35-millimeter prints from The Women Behind Hitchcock, a series that had been set to end last March 19, are still sitting on the floor of the projection booth.
MAYSLES CINEMA This Harlem venue has no reopening plans yet “due to continued concern for the health of our community” and the overhead cost of operating a single screen at limited capacity, said Annie Horner, a programmer and spokeswoman for the theater. Maysles Cinema normally seats about 60, which makes the 25 percent cap a difficult proposition.
METROGRAPH This Lower East Side two-screen cinema did not comment beyond a statement: “While we can’t wait to see everyone, we must evaluate all the details — safety and logistical — for our team and audiences. We’ll be in touch soon with more updates.” The theater remains closed for now, and it plans to continue streaming titles on its virtual platform after reopening.
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART The museum itself reopened in August, but its movie theaters are still closed for now. “The methods we had developed for a potential reopening last summer or fall, when I think all of us were hoping cinemas could reopen, they don’t really apply I think the same way anymore,” said Rajendra Roy, the chief film curator. He cited both advances with vaccines and questions surrounding new variants.
While the museum has now had the experience of being open during the pandemic, Roy said, translating what happens in galleries to the theatrical experience isn’t straightforward. “It’s not a direct overlay in terms of procedures and time spent in one area,” he said. The staff has mapped the cinemas and even with the capacity restrictions can fit in a “decent” number of moviegoers. Still, he wants to avoid a situation in which there are “crickets in the room because there’s not a comfort level yet in coming back.” He’s envisioning reopening with something that will be a “delight” to watch on a big screen.
In the meantime, MoMA started a virtual cinema in December, and Roy feels “it’s been curatorially representative of what we would hold ourselves to.” (Currently streaming: Two rediscoveries from 1930s France that MoMA had included last year in To Save and Project, a film preservation series.)
If the theaters had reopened in 2020, Roy said, “I don’t know that we would have even built the virtual cinema.” Now, “it’s going to be a permanent feature of our offerings.”
MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE “Our goal has been to open our entire facility — our theaters and our galleries — in tandem, and to do so this spring,” said Carl Goodman, the Queens museum’s executive director. But moviegoers who are looking for something to watch this weekend can attend the Queens Drive-In in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which reopens for a new season tonight, and which the museum runs with Rooftop Films and the New York Hall of Science. Programming is planned through June, at least.
When the museum returns, so will its exhibit “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey,” which has been extended through September. The disrupted programming that accompanied the exhibit — screenings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and related films — will also continue.
“I’m very, very confident in our airflow adjustments,” Goodman said, adding. “We need staff and visitors to be safe and feel safe.”
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