As the exhibition industry teeters, global cinema owners beseeched New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reopen theaters in areas of the state with low infection rates. The response was not promising.
The executive committee of the Global Cinema Federation — led by Alejandro Ramirez Magaña, CEO of Cinépolis, in a letter to the governor Wednesday, praised the state’s progress in combating COVID and listed steps exhibitors have taken to keep patrons and staff safe. “We humbly ask that you reconsider your decision to keep movie theaters in the State closed.”
The epistle (see full text below) is the latest testament to the importance of Hollywood fare to the worldwide theatrical ecosystem and the key role of the New York market. It also comes a day after the world’s biggest chain, AMC Entertainment, said it may run out of cash by year end if nothing gives. Several weeks ago, Regal parent Cineworld closed most of its U.S. and U.K. theaters.
“With New York’s theaters shuttered for nearly seven months and no indication of when they will be allowed to reopen, the studios that supply new movies have been reluctant to release their latest films to the point where almost no new major films will be released globally until 2021 and beyond. Without new movies to play in our cinemas, many members of the global exhibition community will be forced to close their doors again. Many of these companies will not survive” the letter said.
Governor Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard said in a statement that the administration gets it but has other priorities just now as well as lingering concerns over theater safety.
“With cases rising in dozens of other states and countries, we are first and foremost doing everything we can to try and prevent a second wave of the pandemic in New York. We understand it is, and continues to be, a difficult time for the entertainment industry but we will continue to make decisions on reopening based on the data, science and when global health experts determine it is safe to reopen without jeopardizing public health.”
New York’s infection rate is an impressive 0.95%, as of Tuesday, the governor announced at a briefing today. But it is spiking in a some hotspots in New York City and upstate, something the GCF acknowledged. “We are, of course, not suggesting that you open the entire state at once. We are, however, requesting that you adopt a plan similar to that in California, where Governor Newsom has allowed openings on a county-by-county basis according to virus data,” the letter said.
Exhibitors in New York have said they don’t know what they lack or what they’re supposed to do because there is no blueprint, no guide and not much communication.
Girouard noted that concerns around reopening theaters include: patrons arriving and departing at the same time, leading to congestion; large groups of individuals staying in the same indoor area for extended periods of time; and individuals mingling before, during and after the movie.
She said the state continues to look at the data and science in New York and nationwide and explore how and when “higher-risk industries like movie theaters” may be able to safely reopen, and will update guidelines when it believes the industry can safely reopen.
The GCF executive committee includes Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark, Ellis Jacob, CEO of Cineplex, Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, Jane Hastings, CEO of Event Cinemas, Aurélien Bosc, CEO of Les Cinémas Pathé Gaumont, Ajay Bijli, Chairman of PVR Cinemas, Takayuki Ikeda, President of Toho Cinemas Ltd., Tim Richards, CEO of VUE International and John Zeng, CEO of Wanda.
GCF has over 100 member companies in six continents and over 90 countries with hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide. It was established in 2017 by leading cinema operators, NATO and the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC).
NATO represents more than 35,000 movie screens in all 50 states, and more than 33,000 additional screens in 97 countries worldwide. UNIC represents the interests of cinema trade associations and cinema operators covering 38 countries in Europe and neighboring regions.
The arguments in the letter are ones exhibitors have been making for months. CinemaSafe protocols for movie theaters have been vetted and approved by leading epidemiologists for their ability to minimize the risk of transmission, and it could be argued that theaters are safer than other venues that have been allowed to reopen. There are no known cases of the virus spreading in a theater anywhere in the world although many cinemas have been open for months.
“On August 19 you said, ‘Movie theaters, I think, are next.’ More than a month later, there is still no clear path for movie theater reopenings in New York,” the letter said. “This state of limbo, with no set reopening plans or dates, is what is scaring the studios away from releasing their films this year. Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, all of whom are eager to get back to work and entertain their customers in a safe environment. It is genuinely no exaggeration to say that the continued closure of cinemas in your state has put their future in jeopardy, and we ask that exhibitors in New York be given the opportunity to operate again. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you and work together on a plan to reopen New York’s cinemas.”
Full letter below: