Despite record-breaking rates of COVID-19 cases in the United States, movie theater chains are moving forward with reopening plans.
While no concrete dates have been announced for Denver, AMC and Regal are planning to bring back theaters at the end of July in other parts of the country. Cinemark has already started reopening in Texas and Florida, two states hit by coronavirus spikes after relaxing restrictions, and the company plans to do so elsewhere as soon as restrictions loosen.
Under the umbrella of the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade association, all three companies — which operate multiplexes in Colorado — are suing New Jersey, arguing that the shutdown is unconstitutional and that the First Amendment protects movie theaters from being closed if churches are allowed to open. NATO is also lobbying Congress to allow theaters to reopen across the country. At the same time, it's analyzing viewers' preferences, hoping that stay-at-home orders don't help the streaming market grow even stronger, making cinema exhibition more risky.
While drive-ins are seeing a resurgence in Denver, movie theaters otherwise remain dark.
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While staffers at the nonprofit Denver Film are eager to welcome guests back, they have no plans to do so until it's safe. But that doesn't mean they aren't busy. Denver Film's Sie FilmCenter has found new ways to serve the city's cinephiles during the COVID-19 shutdown, with social media campaigns, streaming picks and weekend Snack Packs for stay-at-home movie lovers that include popcorn, candy, and beer or wine.
The Sie's most ambitious effort, however, is its new virtual cinema platform — which marks both a survival strategy and a long-term shift toward serving both those who prefer watching movies at home and theater-goers.
"Today we launched our own Virtual Cinema platform and plan on fully embracing the future of this format for our viewers," announced artistic director Keith Garcia in a statement on July 3. "The previous system for viewing Virtual Cinema releases was controlled by individual distributors and could be quite cumbersome. This new platform allows you to view all virtual Denver Film content in one place, with one simple login."
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For now, the Virtual Cinema platform will be the home of Denver Film's summer programming, and even after the Sie finally reopens, the platform will continue to be used, he says.
In addition to new releases, the Virtual Cinema includes programming strands like CinemaQ, Denver Film's LGBTQ film series; Women + Film,; celebrations of specific directors; and an entire strand of programming dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Even the Denver Film Festival, which attracts thousands of film lovers, plans to bring at least some, if not all, of its programming onto the Virtual Cinema platform.
"As we prepare to safely reopen the Sie FilmCenter and plan for DFF to take place virtually in some capacity — whether as an addition to in-person events or wholly — the new platform will allow viewers to take advantage of exclusive content from home," Garcia notes.