On Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee announced updates to his Safe Start reopening plan, including a loosening of restrictions on movie theaters. Counties in Phase 2 (that's us, King County!) can reopen and operate movie theaters at 25 percent capacity; counties in Phase 3 can operate theaters at 50 percent capacity.
This announcement comes on the heels of theater chain Regal Cinemas closing all 536 locations across the country due to delayed movie releases and COVID-restrictions on capacity. It kind of makes you think—If a corporate chain can't hack reopening, how can a smaller cinema? Seattle-area movie theaters are still grappling with how to move forward with Inslee's new guidelines.
Grand Illusion Cinema's director, programmer, and manager Brian Alter told me that he "doubts" the 70-seat, volunteer-run cinema will reopen under this modified Phase 2 plan. He said it feels "reckless" due to the lack of fresh air circulation in the tiny space. And the theater is so small that only a few people could realistically sit with enough space between them.
On top of that, Alter points out that the University of Washington's Greek row—just a few blocks from Grand Illusion—is in the middle of a significant COVID spike, which he worries will spread throughout the neighborhood. He felt reopening is not worth the risk of getting his employees and moviegoers infected. "I’d ask movie-loving folks to stay home and check out the variety of streaming options available from us and other cinemas in Seattle," he said.
SIFF previously announced that they would remain closed until 2021—and it looks like that will remain the case. In an email, artistic director Beth Barrett called Inslee's move "hopeful," but said that they will keep their eye on reopening next year to "maximize the health and safety of our staff and audience."
Down south in Columbia City, Ark Lodge also doesn't plan on reopening anytime soon. Over the past few years, the movie theater struggled with getting audiences into seats. Owner and operator David McRae is instead taking this time to raise money for renovations of the theater to make it more accessible.
In case you're curious, here's a quick rundown of some of the new movie theater requirements:
Masks are required at all times except for the times when you're shoving popcorn, candy, and soda down your throat. Ticket sales should be made available online or by phone to minimize in-person contact. Lines should be minimized "whenever possible" but if unavoidable, six feet of distance must be maintained. Screening times should be staggered and limited to reduce overcrowding. Any spaces where people might congregate (lounges, play areas, etc.) must be closed. Restrooms must be reconfigured "to the extent possible" to make sure social distancing can be maintained whenever possible. Use of employee breakrooms should be limited. Theaters must provide sufficient hand sanitizing stations and properly cleaned/sanitized between uses. Ventilation systems should be adjusted to bring in as much outside air as possible. The guidelines also literally say theaters should "keep doors and windows open where possible." Looks like some movie theaters could get colder!
I've reached out to other movie theaters and will update once I've heard back.