The last film I saw in the cinema was a press screening of historical drama The Current War on Monday, March 9. Then the hammer came down, press screenings started falling off the calendar, studios began announcing release delays of a year or more, and we all began scouring the streaming services for deeper cuts (pro tip: SBS On Demand is the best, and I’d say that even if I wasn’t writing here).
But now we’re back! Cinemas are opening again across the country (except poor old Melbourne, where a glorious fortnight of theatrical exhibition was scuppered by a fresh six-week lockdown). While the release calendar has been winnowed down considerably, with tentpoles like Disney’s Mulan and Warners’ Tenet leading a field of arthouse and indies like The Personal History of David Copperfield, Resistance and Waves, if you want the theatrical experience, the theatres are once again there for you.
But the theatrical experience has, by necessity, changed. In this age of social distancing and heightened hygiene, sitting elbow to elbow with a bunch of strangers while your feet stick to the carpet simply doesn’t fly, no matter how good the movie is. All the major chains have adopted new policies to deal with Life During COVID, including the requirement that they keep the details of all patrons and contractors who attend their venues for 28 days for use in contact-tracing any infections, so if you’re planning a much delayed trip to your local fleapit, keep these in mind.
Hoyts cinemas have introduced staggered session times and spaced in-cinema seating (although you can still sit with your friends and family). Increased cleaning has also been implemented, with extra hygiene training for staff. Contactless payment is mandatory, with patrons encouraged to book online or via the Hoyts app. All vouchers and memberships have also been extended by six months to account for the downtime. Full information can be found here.
The Event umbrella encompasses Birch Carroll and Coyle, GU Film House, and Moonlight and Skyline drive-in cinemas. Like Hoyts, they have introduced staggered sessions and spaced seating, increased their cleaning schedules, and installed handwashing and hygiene stations in their venues. Contactless and online booking is encouraged, plus they’re giving members of their Cinebuzz loyalty program half-price adult tickets, which is certainly not to be sniffed at. Full information is available here.
Palace have also introduced the standard staggered session times and spaced seating, and have also noted they are enforcing 1.5 metre physical distancing on site. While online booking is preferred, in-venue booking is required for complimentary passes, distributor passes, 2-for-1 passes, film festival passes, Companion Card holders, Veterans’ Affairs card holders, and mobility impaired and wheelchair accessible seating. Full details can be found here.
Dendy have specifically requested that people refrain from patronising their cinemas if they have travelled internationally in the last 14 days, been in close contact with a person who has travelled internationally in the last 14 days, been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and not recovered, within the previous 72 hours, experienced flu-like symptoms, or been advised by a public health authority to self-isolate or quarantine. They have also introduced the standard staggered sessions, spaced seating and sanitisation stations, and encourage digital booking. More information can be found here.
Reading have staggered their session times, spaced their seating, encourage online booking and have mandatory contactless payment on site, and note that they have installed sneeze guards at all points of sale and that staff will be gloved. Full details can be found here.
The Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace in Sydney for the comfort and safety of their staff and patrons have staggered their session times, capped the auditorium capacities in line with the latest government regulations, have hand sanitiser throughout the venue, additional & thorough cleaning of high touch surfaces throughout the day, they have social distancing markers for box office & candy bar queues, mandatory contactless payment on site and confidential contact tracing for online bookings and over the counter sales. Full details can be found here.