Cinema reopens: Four families sit at far corners in the dark
‘You can’t live in fear,’ says one Movies@ customer as screens reopen after lockdown
Cinema reopens: Karcsi Bennett, from Clonskeagh in Dublin, with his parents, Karl and Renata, at Movies@Dundrum on Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Holding a cup of coffee and fresh from a 9am appointment at the barbers, cinema manager Graham Spurling is one very excited man.
“Welcome back!” he booms to the very first customers through the doors of Movies@Dundrum in Dublin. As it happens, Renata Bennett and her eight-year-old son Karcsi were the cinema’s very last customers, back in mid-March. Now they are here to see The Iron Giant, and dad Karl has come along, too.
“We were the only ones in the entire cinema,” Renata says about their pre-lockdown visit. “We couldn’t wait for things to be reopened, and for things to get back to normal.”
Karcsi has particularly missed the big-screen ritual: “Me and Dad do movie days every Friday night, but we’ve just spent it together watching them on the TV.”
Karl adds: “It’s just the experience, the people and the atmosphere that you’d miss. Just being around people.”
Heading for Screen 4 to see The Lego Movie are John Walsh and his sons, five-and-a-half-year-old Patrick and four-year-old John. Walsh, a self-confessed movie buff, is keen to “get them back to the way things were as quickly as possible”.
“We’ve really missed it,” he admits. “Their mammy was great with homeschooling, and we did a lot of playing in the garden, but being able to take them out is great. We’re just happy to be here.
“Every day they have asked, ‘is the coronavirus gone yet?’” Walsh adds. For safety information “the cinema’s website is pretty good. They say they’re practising social distancing, and I trust them to do that. But you can’t live in fear.”
Pauline Mannering, heading to see Trolls 2 with her children Kate, Tess and Finn, who are 11, nine and seven, and family friend Jack Evans, who is also seven, is similarly keen to return to a semblance of normality.
“I didn’t know until the weekend that they were reopening, so we booked straightaway,” she says, “We’re delighted to be here. Happy to be back to some sort of normality. People will always want the sound, the screen, the whole experience. There’s just something in the whole experience of seeing something in the cinema that will never go away.”
Armed with their snacks and ticket, Kate notes that the last time she was in the cinema was to see Little Women. What has she missed? “The comfy chairs!” she exclaims.
Finn nods in agreement. “And the big screen. And being in the darkness,” he says.
Social distancing at the pick’n’mix
For cinemagoers the experience is much the same, albeit with a few modifications. Perspex screens separate the ticket sellers from customers; floor markings encourage social distancing, and mask-clad cleaners are very busy keeping the common areas pristine. Over at the pick’n’mix, a supervisor will ensure that all buyers wear disposable gloves. The ticketing software will automatically seat different groups of cinemagoers a safe distance from one other. The wearing of masks, though encouraged, won’t be mandatory.
“The staff had to do 38 days’ work in seven days,” says Spurling. “Luckily, we had our plans in place to be ready for opening in July.”
In some ways things haven’t changed a bit since March, the line-up included. Among the 38 films on offer this week are a mix of mid-March releases and classics: Joker, The Greatest Showman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Rabbit, A Star Is Born and Dirty Dancing.
“I feel like we’re in a supermarket selling food right near the sell-by date,” Spurling says. “There are no new titles coming out... I think we have one new film, maybe two, coming in on July 12th. But for now it’s a broad church. People won’t be short of choice.”
Within Screen 3 punters needn’t overly worry about social distancing. At the 11am screening of The Iron Giant, four families are seated at the far corners of the auditorium. The cinema screen offers directives about hand-washing and social distancing. “Welcome back, we missed you!” it reads.
Then it’s time for the lights to dim, the sound to strike up and the film to start. A hairs-standing-on-the-arm moment for sure.