Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

Health Restrictions Alter Immediate Future Of Film Industry

Devin D. O'Leary
8 min read
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An illness caused by a novel coronavirus, known officially now as COVID-19, is doing its severe acute respiratory syndrome best to disrupt life in these United States (and everywhere else, for that matter). Ever-evolving health restrictions are wreaking havoc with the entertainment industry in cities big and small. Inarguably necessary as these restrictions are, they’re kind of a bummer, because we could all use a little distraction right now.

Like it or not, life is changing. There’s little we can do right now to prevent it from doing so. We’re all just gonna have to roll with it for a while. Eventually—God, the CDC and Purell willing—life will be back to normal. But for now, everything, from our jobs to our chosen form of relaxation, is going to be different. So where does the state of the film industry, the weekly focus of this here section of the
Alibi, stand? Let’s see what we know so far.

Cancel Culture

The list of cancellations/postponements in the local arts industry is expanding day by day. This is a reality that is happening all across the country and in nearly every corner of the globe right now. It’s always important to find ways to support our local scenes (from film to arts to food to music), but our current health crisis makes this exponentially more difficult.

The Native American arts and entertainment convention Indigenous Pop Culture Expo (IPX), an outgrowth of the 2016 Indigenous Comic Con, has been postponed. Dates have yet to be determined—because now everyone is fighting to find venues/time slots later on in the summer. Refunds on pre-purchased tickets and passes are available, but organizers are encouraging the cost of those be donated to the Native artists and performers who can no longer attend and whose incomes have been adversely affected during this trying time. In the meantime, the convention’s “Indigenous Futurisms Days” programming is moving online. In the coming weeks, organizers will be creating digital programming, which includes many of the previously scheduled presenters and guests who have graciously offered their time to give online workshops, conversations and panels. (Check for upcoming info.)

Albuquerque’s Public Academy of Performing Arts was scheduled to premiere its student-made zombie flick
The Turning this Thursday at Guild Cinema. Now that classes have been canceled throughout the school district, the film premiere has been postponed until May 4. All tickets already purchased will be honored at that time. (PAPA students will continue their instruction electronically using Google Classroom and other resources.)

The 6th Annual Pueblo Film Festival was slated to take place March 22 and 23 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It was to bring short films and Native filmmakers from all over the Southwest for a full weekend of screenings and Q&As Thanks to concerns over COVID-19, it’s been postponed. New dates have not been announced.

Looking to the future, Albuquerque’s venerable Experiments in Cinema festival (celebrating its 15th annual outing this year) has already postponed events. The international experimental film festival, hosted every year by Basement Films, was supposed to take place April 14 through 18. Expecting that international travel will still be a problem then, organizers decided to postpone it. The festival’s longtime director, Bryan Konefsky, has even hinted at the strong possibility that this year’s gathering will transform into a “virtual” online festival. (Keep an eye on experimentsincinema,org for updates.)

The 2020 NM Italian Film & Culture Festival, originally set to return March 31 through April 5, also closed the curtains on this year’s event. Organizers say they have “every intention of going forward with the festival as planned at a time in the future when it is safe to do so.”

The Theatrical Experience

New Mexico State Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel has called for a temporary halt to most public gatherings larger than 100 people. The conversion to stadium and recliner seating has reduced the number of seats in the majority of movie theaters over the last few years, meaning most theaters could legally stay open. A small reduction in the number of seats sold in any individual auditorium would keep movie audiences under our city’s current 100 patron limit. But that’s not the case in every city (San Francisco, for example, has ordered “shelter in place” restrictions), and major theater chains are acting accordingly

Of the national theater chains that operate in Albuquerque, Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Flix have all announced plans to close theaters nationwide. As of Tuesday, March 17, AMC Albuquerque 12, Century 14 Downtown, Century Rio, Cottonwood Stadium 16, Flix Brewhouse, High Ridge, Movies 8, Movies West and Winrock Stadium 16 IMAX are closed to the public. AMC stated that it expects its 280 theaters to remain closed for “six to 12 weeks.”

As of press time, Icon Cinemas Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Premiere have not officially announced they are closing. That, of course, could change on a moment’s notice. But as of Tuesday, March 17, Icon Cinema’s Facebook page assured patrons that the theater was open and that, “we have limited seating in our auditorium to allow social distancing and we are sanitizing all contact surfaces accordingly.”

Until orders from the Governor’s office change the playing field, the locally owned Guild Cinema in Nob Hill (3405 Central Ave. NE) plans to remain open. Its total number of seats hovers near the 100 mark, the edge of the maximum number of people recommended for gathering in public places. Owner Keif Henley has promised to limit the number of tickets sold for each individual screening even further, allowing for more “social distancing” within the theater. For the last 16 years,
Weekly Alibi has hosted Midnight Movie Madness every other weekend at that theater and plans to continue that for the foreseeable future.

Just keep in mind, potential moviegoers, if you’re feeling sick, stay home.

Product Shortage

Of course, if we want to go to movie theaters, we still need product to view. And like two-ply quilted toilet paper, that’s going to start coming into short supply.

The movie industry was already panicking over the shutdown of China’s movie theaters. China accounts for 22 percent of the global market. That’s second only to America at 29 percent. In 2020 China’s moviegoing audience was projected to surpass America’s for the very first time. That’s no longer going to happen, of course.

After China’s movie theaters shuttered, Europe followed suit. And American theaters are following quickly behind. Last weekend, after the federal government issued rules on public gatherings and strong suggestions about self-isolation, the movie box office shrank to a mere $55 million in ticket sales. That’s the lowest weekend since Sept. 15, 2000.

Thanks to concerns about closing theaters, Hollywood has scrambled to bump films both major and minor off its release schedule. Worried about the loss of foreign box office, MGM bounced its 25th James Bond Film,
No Time To Die, from its April 10 Easter weekend opening date. It’s now prepping for a Nov. 25 Thanksgiving date. The studio is expected to lose upwards of 50 million in already-spent advertising and marketing dollars. Paramount’s A Quiet Place II, originally slated to hit theaters on March 13, was the next film to blink and get pushed into the “TBD” category. That was followed in quick succession by Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan and 20th Century Fox’s comic book adaptation The New Mutants (neither of which have a new date yet). Columbia’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway got bumped to Aug. 7 and Universal’s Fast and the Furious 9 has been shunted all the way to 2021.

To combat the closing of theaters, and to help people stranded at home, movie studios are going to have to come up with some innovative distribution solutions. Universal Pictures is the first to decide they will be releasing films to theaters and on at-home streaming on the same day. Currently released films such as
The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma will now be available via “a wide variety of the most popular on-demand services.” Vudu, iTunes and Amazon Video are among the participants, offering the films (a 48-hour download) for $19.99 each. The first brand-new film to debut under this theater/streaming plan will be Universal’s Trolls World Tour on April 20.

So What Now?

Yes, the truth is that movie theaters could remain closed nationwide over health concerns, and major movie releases could vanish in the chaotic atmosphere that is 2020. In the grand scheme of things, it’s among our lowest concerns right now. We’ll just have to see where, in the coming weeks, this all leads. It could mean a wholesale restructuring of the film distribution industry. Or not.

In the meantime, do not panic, exercise reasonable caution concerning your health and the health of others. Continue to patronize local businesses, all of which are struggling. Feel free to escape your home and distract yourself with a film of your choosing. … And if worse comes to worst, there’s always TV. (Check out this week’s Idiot Box for more on that.)

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