Montreal movie theatres reopening July 3, but with prohibitive restrictions

If this phase of deconfinement goes well, indoor gatherings of 250 people will be allowed next month.

UPDATED: While the fate of concert venues (aka “showrooms”) remains unclear given seating and social distancing requirements (and comments made in yesterday’s press conference about live singing with an audience being a no-go), movie theatres in Montreal and across Quebec are reopening on July 3. In a press conference yesterday, Quebec health director Horacio Arruda gave cinemas and showrooms the green light to reopen as early as next Monday, June 22, though prohibitive physical distancing requirements and a pretty short lead time have made that impossible for the chain movie theatres and independent cinemas alike.

movie theatres reopening
François Legault | Twitter

“It was a very disappointing press conference,” said Vince Guzzo, whose Cinémas Guzzo chain, like Cineplex, had previously announced the intention to open on July 3 and had been pushing the provincial government to announce that date. By giving an earlier date and a reduced physical distancing requirement (to 1.5 metres between seats), Guzzo says the province is “appearing to be giving us a gift” while doing nothing of the sort.

“When you have the double restriction of 1.5 metres (between seats) and a maximum 50 people per auditorium, why would I want to open on June 22 to lose money with vintage movies and I don’t even have the capacity?” he says, going on to criticize Arruda’s handling of this phase of deconfinement.

“The impression I’m getting is the more complex they make the deconfinement, the more it’s going to sound like there’s science behind it. Like I’m a very important person to make these complicated calculations.

“It was one of the rare times that I collaborated with government bureaucrats, public services and so forth, and they literally totally ignored us as if they were the experts on how to run an industry,” Guzzo added. “I think the amateur show, the gong show, has got to stop. Enough is enough.”

Guzzo has been pushing for a one-metre distance rule for seating, as is the regulation in several European countries, which he says makes sense especially in the context of modern movie theatres that have 20- to 24-foot ceilings. Meanwhile, Mario Fortin — the president and director general of Cinémas du Parc, Beaubien and du Musée — appreciates the government’s insistence on physical distancing, at least on a personal level.

“My wife had a kidney transplant seven years ago so she’s immuno-compromised,” Fortin said, explaining that he takes every possible precaution to avoid COVID-19 in his everyday life. “Applying this to reopening movie theatres… we will take all the measures to keep a safe distance between the customers when they walk into the cinema. As of today, it’s still 2 metres so we will mark the floor (accordingly). We have all the Purell we need.”

Fortin will join his cinema managers tomorrow to measure the rooms and the seating at Parc and Beaubien in order to determine what the capacities will be — no two of his auditoriums are alike in size or seating type. As with Cineplex, Fortin’s movie theatres will sell advance tickets online, with reserved (numbered and lettered) seating. They will allow people from the same household or bubble to sit together, though it will be impossible to demand proof of address for all clients in small groups. “We will do our best to make sure the customers and the employees are safe. Beyond that, let’s hope for the best and let’s hope we find a vaccine as soon as possible.” (For an update on Parc/Beaubien/du Musée safety measure, click here.)

Despite screening different films from different distributors, Guzzo and Fortin have the same issue preventing them from reopening their movie theatres on June 22: very few films to screen, and no films that promise to be a huge draw. (Conversely, second-run theatre Dollar Cinema WILL be reopening on June 22.)

“We have to work with the distributors to find out what’s their strategy, what’s the marketing strategy, what films will be available when,” says Fortin. “We have a partial calendar because we are independent — we’re not touched by the majors and Hollywood’s schedule.”

Cinémas Guzzo will be opening on July 3 with family films The Lost Medallion and The Fantastic Journey to Oz, along with some older titles and IMAX “pick-ups.” Hollywood action films Unhinged and Target #1 will be out on July 10 and 17, respectively, but the big titles for July are the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan (July 24) and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (July 31). Guzzo will also be screening Inception on IMAX as of July 17. Wonder Woman 1984 has been postponed from August to Oct. 2, which happens to coincide with the opening of a new Cinéma Guzzo in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Both Guzzo and Fortin said that they’ve been involved in an ongoing conversation between cultural institutions and government that has pinpointed the date July 15 — if deconfinement has progressed well by that time, the maximum number of people allowed to gather indoors will be raised from 50 to 250, potentially with revised physical distancing regulations. More details to come. ■

Cinémas Guzzo website.

Cinéma du Parc website.

For reviews and coverage of new movies and series, visit the Film & TV section.

For more news updates, please see our News section.