Reopening Europe's Cinemas: Part One

Posted on June 30, 2020 by Katriina Miola

Categories: General

The UK Government has announced that cinemas will be allowed to reopen from 4 July with social distancing measures in place.

Across many countries in Europe, where the impact of Covid-19 has not been as severe as in the UK, the process of reopening has already begun. Curious to find out about this experience after months of closure, CICAE asked some of their members how it went. We’ll be sharing several of their responses in a series of blogs featuring cinemas in countries across Europe. To read the responses in full, head to CICAE’s website.

In Part One, Katriina Miola from CICAE speaks to staff from cinemas in Croatia, Latvia and Slovenia about their reopening experiences.

How was your reopening experience? How did your audience react?

Tamara Viskovic, director of Zlatna Vrata in Split, Croatia 

We opened the cinema on 21 May. In the beginning we programmed just one screening a day, the evening one, as a kind of transition period for us and for our audience. We mostly played films we had planned to screen in March, the month when we had to close the venue. This week we plan to reopen our open air cinema too, as the weather is nice at the moment and the social distancing rules are not as strict for open spaces.

The audience were back in the cinema from day one. The situation in Croatia is quite relaxed because there have been no new cases of infection for several days now, but the restrictions on the number of people allowed in an enclosed space and the minimum separation distance of 1.5m mean that the maximum number of people we can have in a screening is 40, which makes it borderline unprofitable.

The fact that people are keen to go out and experience ‘normal’ life again is definitely on our side. The good weather is a stroke of luck too, as it allows us to start our open air program a bit sooner than we would usually. As we are an arthouse cinema which shows repertory and classic films as well as current titles, the shortage of new releases hasn’t been an issue for us. So we opened as soon as it was possible, while commercial cinemas and multiplexes remain closed.

The open air cinema at Zlatna Vrata, Split. Photo credit: Zlatna Vrata.

Tanja Miličić, manager of Kino Valli in Pula, Croatia

It is wonderful to have the cinema up and running again. The audience were delighted, even though there were not many of them. It will take time for them to get used to going to the cinema again, despite the fact that we’ve been coronavirus-free in our county for some time now.

Aliki Kalagasidu, Public Relations Manager at Kinodvor in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Kinodvor opened its doors on 1 June, after 81 days of lockdown. During the lockdown we had estimated that we would need two weeks to fully prepare for the reopening. Our communications became focused on the safety measures we had put in place, shifting our usual focus from the film programme to the cinema-going experience. We have, in our opinion, achieved this with our I/You/We go to the cinema’ promotional campaign. All the feedback so far has been enthusiastic, people were missing the cinema.

Two audience members at Kinodvor, Ljubljana. Photo credit: Katja Goljat.
What worked best when reopening your cinema?

Daira Āboliņa-Ilješāne, programme curator and film critic at Splendid Palace in Riga, Latvia

We tried to make it as clear as possible how the cinema would be operating during this time. The media showed great interest in the reopening of this historical cinema and we gave several interviews on the radio and on Latvian public TV (now available on YouTube), where our staff demonstrated how easy and, most importantly, safe it would be.

From the very start, we urged people to buy tickets online. We lowered the ticket price, all tickets currently cost 5,50 EUR. Knowing that there would be no big new film releases, we screened some of the films we had been planning to show before the crisis began. We started on the very first night with the postponed premiere of Misbehaviour and the black-and-white director’s cut of Parasite, which was previously announced as one of the spring season events. The tickets sold out two days before the event.

Checking tickets at Splendid Palace cinema, Riga. Photo credit: Splendid Palace.

Aliki Kalagasidu, Public Relations Manager at Kinodvor in Ljubljana, Slovenia

On Monday 1 June, before the first screening took place, our director greeted and thanked the audience for coming. Throughout the week, people expressed joy and happiness that we were back. The first week of running the cinema showed that, as before, attendance correlated with the film title: the best-attended being Maiden.

In our first week we had, with only two screenings per day, 333 admissions (so an average of 23 per screening, which is quite promising and more than we expected). For the first week of June we were at 28% capacity as the same week in 2019. Last Friday we had our first ‘sold out’ screening of the film Maiden (with 56 admissions). We actually ‘sold out’ half an hour before the beginning of the screening and 17 people couldn’t get a ticket.

We expect that, at least until our big open air project in the courtyard of Ljubljana castle (starting mid-July), it will be extremely difficult to attract larger audiences.

Greeting the audience at Kinodvor, Ljubljana. Photo credit: Katja Goljat.
Have there been any unforeseen difficulties in reopening?

Jelena Vojvoda, director of Kino Samobor in Samobor, Croatia

Not unforeseen difficulties, but the main issue to resolve ahead of reopening concerned the selection of films available to screen, as the number of films being distributed at the moment is very low. In the end we selected Parasite for the first screening, followed by some blockbuster reruns. I think this will be our biggest problem in the coming weeks too, the low level of films available.

Aliki Kalagasidu, Public Relations Manager at Kinodvor in Ljubljana, Slovenia

The two weeks before reopening were quite turbulent because our government’s communications on the rules of reopening were confusing and contradictory, so we had to wait until the day we opened to understand the rules regarding wearing masks once inside the auditorium. This, for us, was the key factor in anticipating whether people would come back, but on the Friday before reopening it was still unclear whether one should wear a mask during the screening or not. Finally, the rules were set: masks are only obligatory when social distancing cannot be guaranteed. We are seating people at least 1.5m apart, so the audience is not required to wear masks during the film.

We don’t have online ticket sales yet, so we are controlling the distance between visitors when issuing tickets at the box office. This means that, depending on how many come individually, as couples or in a group, we can accommodate only between 40 and 60 people (our seating capacity is 188). We closed our smaller screen, which has 20 seats, and cancelled all other events. However, so far our audience has been very understanding, they realise that these are unprecedented circumstances.

A socially distanced audience at Splendid Palace Cinema, Riga. Photo credit: Splendid Cinema.
How did you implement the security and health guidelines given by the authorities of your country?

Tanja Miličić, manager of Kino Valli in Pula, Croatia

Kino Valli has 209 seats. After following the epidemiological guidance, the number of seats came down to 44. We have displayed written information around the cinema about the safety measures in place. Liquid hand sanitiser is available at the entrance of the cinema, as well as in front of the box office. The volunteers who check tickets wear gloves and masks. We’ve always had a glass screen between the cashier and the visitors so we didn’t have to install one. Currently we’re not selling food or beverages.

A member of staff at Kinodvor, Ljubljana. Photo credit: Katja Goljat.

Jelena Vojvoda, director of Kino Samobor in Samobor, Croatia

We did the following:

  • We adjusted the online ticket sales system in order to prevent people from being able to buy seats that were less than three spaces apart from the seats already sold. Groups of people coming together can sit together, but have three empty seats either side of them. We also only sell tickets for every other row. This means that out of the 240 seats in the cinema we can sell about 60. This also means that we can’t use our smaller auditorium, which has 60 seats.
  • We developed posters for the audience, explaining the new safety recommendations: disinfecting their hands, maintaining 1.5m distance from others when going in and out of the cinema, not coming if they have a fever etc. We have put up posters in the cinema foyer, on the outside of the building, in different places in the city, on Facebook, and on our website.
  • We have also made a simple, short video about the safety procedures and we show it before each screening.
  • We have developed a safety procedure for employees too. They wear protective masks, disinfect their hands regularly, and measure their temperature before coming to work.
  • We have developed a procedure to disinfect the cinema before and after each film screening. We disinfect all handrails, toilets and handles, and ventilate the cinema for 30 minutes between each screening. This has meant that we now have three screenings per day instead of the usual four.
  • We have adjusted the automatic ventilation of the cinema to only take in fresh air from outside and not from inside the cinema.
  • This has all been communicated on the available communication channels – local radio, local websites, the cinema’s website, and the cinema’s Facebook page.

To read Part Two of this blog series, click here. Thank you to CICAE for providing the content for this blog series.

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