The impact of Covid-19 on cinemas and what we can do to help

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in Irish cinemas on August 26th, and news that a number of films, including Jurassic World: Dominion and Mission Impossible 7, are once again in production Robyn Murphy asks what this means for cinemas.

It cannot be denied that cinemas have suffered during the pandemic. Not only were they closed for five months, but since reopening they have had to deal with strict government guidelines and an altered landscape. During the lockdown, cinemas had been excluded from the distribution process entirely, with an increasing number of studios releasing their films through streaming services or on-demand. Irish cinemas have been permitted to open, albeit with a reduced capacity, since 29th June, with many opening in mid-late July in order to implement new social distancing facilities. In line with government requirements, there can be a maximum of fifty people per screening and there must be physical distancing between groups. While this may be manageable for large cinema chains like Cineworld and Odeon, who have numerous screens and can accommodate such distancing measures, this could turn out to be a major blow for small independent cinemas who have limited space and smaller screens.

Another struggle faced by cinemas is the lack of films. The release of blockbusters like No Time To Die, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman 1984 have all been pushed until the end of the year, or in some cases indefinitely. Since cinemas re-opened there have been few new releases to screen. Because of this many chose to screen older films, cult classics, or films which had been released on demand during the lockdown. This in turn poses its own challenges as many people have embraced the ability to get new releases straight to their TV during lockdown and so will not be as eager to rush back to cinemas to re-watch a film, or even to see new ones. 

As more films are released I hope that people begin to return to the irreplaceable communal environment of the cinema.

In terms of what can be done in order to help cinemas recover, the most obvious solution is buying tickets and attending screenings in the small, independent cinemas like the IFI and the Lighthouse, who have been disproportionately affected. After being crippled by long periods of closure the best thing we can do to help is to see films. I understand that people could be feeling some trepidation about returning to the cinema in the much-changed landscape, but in my experience going to the cinema has felt quite normal since reopening. Although you must wear masks while moving around, once in your seat you’re free to remove it and enjoy your popcorn. You can sit next to the people you came with and they will keep the seats directly in front, behind and either side of you free in order to facilitate social distancing. While it may be hard at the minute with the few options available, as more films are released I hope that instead of consuming everything from the couch, people begin to return to the irreplaceable communal environment of the cinema.