Cinema Returns To New York: The Most Cautious City Reopens Its Theaters (with Limits) After a Year

“I can’t believe I haven’t been to a movie theater in almost a year,” says a viewer as he searches for his seat before the movie starts. The theater is sold out, which is not full, since in New York only 40% of the tickets can be sold.

In AMC, the largest cinema chain in the world, the mask is mandatory, but it is allowed to take it off to eat or drink. This means that if a customer buys the large size of popcorn and drink, the entire movie can be left without using it. “Yes, of course. We bought popcorn,” says Daniel Mazur at the exit of the cinema. “We had a lot of space. We felt safe at all times,” he adds when asked whether the coronavirus pandemic made him meditate when it came to buying food or not.

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Other cinemas, such as IFC Center, have decided to increase the security measures imposed by the city and the mask is mandatory at all times. “Eating or drinking is not allowed, and there are no spaces available for sale, so there are no exceptions to the policy of covering nose and mouth,” the company said in a statement.

New York was the first large city to suffer the pandemic a year ago in the United States and, after the first reaction criticized as late, it has been the most cautious place and has managed to avoid the levels of deaths and hospitalized in other regions despite its population density. Both the city and the rest of the state have kept cinemas, theaters, operas, and concert halls closed. New York has given up one of the main engines of its economy, the cultural one, to control the pandemic. Restaurant and bar interiors have also been closed for most of this last year. The few social activities that have been maintained have been transferred abroad, even in the harshest of winter, because the main route of contagion of the coronavirus is through the air and the virus is concentrated in closed spaces.

Mazur, a laboratory technician, decided to go to the rooms the same day they reopened, Friday, March 5, to see Nomadland, a film that narrates the travels of Fren –Frances McDormand– in his truck. One of the reasons why he and his partner chose to see this production was because they wanted to “escape” and “travel” through the western United States to escape for a few hours from the reality of the pandemic.

The New York couple do not remember whether they have seen a first-run movie on any media platform. streaming during the last months of confinement. “They are all blurred memories, every day they come together. We have seen many series and movies, but I do not remember if they were new or not,” he says. However, his memory does not fail him to remember the last movie he saw in a room, Portrait of a woman on fire, in February 2020.

Another question that people ask themselves before buying a ticket is where it is safest to sit to avoid the spread of the virus. “We sat in the back of the cinema. Usually we always choose that place, even before the pandemic,” explain Harry Wechsler and Madison Dietrich, who on Saturday went to the cinema to see Raya and the last dragon

, the last Walt Disney movie that premiered on March 5 instead of the planned November 25, 2020.

This couple describes the evening more as an event than “just watching a movie” and they say they arrived 45 minutes early to have a few drinks at the cinema bar. “I miss going out and I liked this experience, it was fun,” says Dietrich. Despite the fact that the theaters in the city are still closed, for a couple of weeks you can already eat inside the restaurants and bars with limited capacity.

At the exit of a cinema in the East Village, a neighborhood in the heart of Manhattan, Peter McRichard, details that he has gone every day of the weekend to see a movie, since he wants to get the most out of being a member of AMC – which allows him to see three productions a week for about 23 dollars (about 20 euros) – and that his fear of the coronavirus ended when he received the first dose of the vaccine.

The movie he decided to watch on Sunday was Wonder Woman 1984, a movie about the superheroine that is available in streaming. “It’s more fun watching movies on the big screen. I like to focus on what’s going on. If I had seen it at home, I probably would have stopped it halfway and then I would have forgotten to watch the rest.

Adam Aron, the CEO of AMC told The Wall Street Journal that when he was able to open about half of his cinemas, he realized that he was losing more money, about 125 million dollars a month (more than 105 million euros), than when his theaters were closed. Still, the businessman thought it was worth keeping the theaters open to show customers that the company, which turned a century old last year and has 1,000 cinemas around the world, is still in operation.

However, a stroke of luck coordinated by a forum on the social network Reddit helped the company come back. At the end of January, within 72 hours, AMC’s shares rose to 467%. The hashtag #saveamc (Save AMC) and several memes that showed a photomontage of a chain’s cinema on the moon took over the internet. Although the shares were deflated when the AMC fever subsided, the chain managed to reduce 600 million dollars (more than 504 million euros) of its debts.

Some of these small investors say they bought shares in the company because they wanted to challenge stock market systems and make money, but others pointed to the nostalgia factor. “Out of nostalgia, essentially, for America, you hope the theaters will pick up, especially AMC,” Anton Torres, a 33-year-old technician who bought shares in the company twice, told the financial newspaper.

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