Cineplex and Landmark to reopen Sask. movie theatres July 3

Cineplex says every other auditorium row will be kept empty and available seats will be in pairs "with proper physical distancing in all directions."

Cineplex to keep every other row empty

Cineplex Inc. and Landmark Theatres both say they will reopen their Saskatchewan movie theatres on July 3. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Two of Canada's biggest cinema chains say they will reopen their Saskatchewan movie theatres next week, nearly three months after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the theatrical distribution business to a halt. 

Cineplex Inc. and Landmark Theatres will both reopen their Saskatchewan locations on July 3, the companies confirmed Wednesday.

The news came a day after the provincial government announced theatres could restart operations as soon as this coming Monday under the second part of Phase Four of Saskatchewan's reopening plan. 

The experience will initially be quite different from what moviegoers are used to.

Sarah Van Lange, a spokesperson for Cineplex, said every other auditorium row will be kept empty and available seats will be in pairs "with proper physical distancing in all directions."

Altogether, auditorium capacity will be reduced by 60 to 80 per cent, Van Lange said. 

This seating chart from a recently reopened South Edmonton Cineplex auditorium gives an idea of the spacing between seats during the age of COVID-19. (Cineplex)

Popcorn will still be available, but not items like pizza and poutine, she said. 

Staff will wear masks and have other masks on hand for customers who forget to bring their own, but customers will not be required to wear one, Van Lange said.

"We're taking guidance from Canada's public health authorities in all levels of government," Van Lange said. "In markets where it's not mandated at the municipal level, we're recommending but not requiring our guests to wear a mask. That said, health and safety is obviously the number one priority here."

The VIP auditoriums at Cineplex's downtown Saskatoon location and the clubhouse theatre at the company's newly opened Saskatoon location on Eighth Street E — which includes a jungle gym for kids — will remain closed.

Exactly what new films the theatres will show remains unclear. Van Lange said the slate will be announced soon but that customers can expect to see some late 2019 and early 2020 releases such as Bad Boys For Life and Jumanji: The Next Level.

Movie studios have either delayed the releases of most of their films. One holdout is the Christopher Nolan thriller Tenet, which is scheduled for release on July 31.

Reopening unclear for independent chain

A smaller, independent Canadian theatre chain said its own reopening plans are less clear.

Tom Hutchinson, the president of Magic Lantern Theatres, which owns nine cinemas in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario. said the company has been monitoring cinemas that have recently opened in Alberta, B.C. and the United States. 

"The grosses have been beyond dismal," Hutchinson said via email. "As an example, on the weekend one cinema we monitor held nine performances and the total revenue was $256. Similar stories from everyone; no examples of areas where people want to come back to the movies.

"In short, provinces can close cinemas. They can't reopen them. When we have something to offer our customers that they want to see, we will be open."

Hutchinson said the company is working to come up with ideas or a model that would allow its theatres to return to normalcy.

"So far nothing seems to work," he said.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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