Going to the movies during a pandemic

[Note: With the many last-minute changes to this article, I’ve made several unfortunate errors. Rather than point out particular errors, I’m letting you know that this post is different but more accurate than it was when I posted it Monday morning.]

Going to the movies is scarier than ever. Who last touched your armrest? What microscopic things are multiplying in the restroom? How often do the teenagers at the concession stand wash their hands?

And could all these fears put the final nails in the coffin of theatrical films – and especially the arthouse cinemas we love? As I write this, six Bay Area movie theaters have closed – hopefully not for long. Four festivals have been cancelled or postponed. And several theaters, still open, are doing what they can to keep the virus – or at least fear of the virus – away from their customers.

Comic image from New Parkway email

I hate to say this, but I’ve stopped going to theaters. For the time being, I’ll be watching movies at home. I recommend you do the same.

The situation changes daily, so by the time you read this article, it will probably be outdated. I discovered three important changes just this morning.

Here’s how the Bay Area arthouse scene is dealing with the emergency:


The Stanford was the first Bay Area movie theater to close because of COVID-19 – and right in the middle of a Kurosawa series! The website provides a short notice: “We are cancelling our scheduled programs until further notice. This voluntary decision reflects only an abundance of caution. We are not aware of any infected persons having been at the theatre.”

The BAMPFA followed within a week. “This policy will remain in place through March 29, with possible extensions based on the latest public health conditions.” You can find more information on their COVID-19 page.

On Friday, the San Francisco Department of Health set up new rules that effectively closed the Castro, the Balboa, the Vogue, and the Roxie for the time being. According to the Chronicle, no San Francisco theaters can have more than 100 patrons, who must stay at least six feet from each other. Oddly, the big chain multiplexes are still selling tickets.

The new rules affect the New Mission, but for the time being that theater will stay open. A New Mission representative told the Chronicle that the theater’s reservation system will help enforce the six-foot rule. Unlike the Rafael, it never had a webpage assuring us that they’re doing all they can to keep everything clean.

Sunday evening, the New Parkway announced that they are closed.In an effort to help stem the spread of the Coronavirus, the New Parkway will shutter its doors starting tomorrow for at least a month.”

Before the city closed them, the Roxie and Castro posted new sanitation policies, hoping these would ease customers’ concerns. So did the New Parkway. Only minutes after I posted this article, I discovered that the Rafael is now closed.

My opinion? The New Parkway and the Rafael did the right thing…even if a bit late. The New Mission has not. Every theater in the world should be shut down until this is over.

The big question is in the title of this IndieWire article: Why Movie Theaters Are Still (Mostly) Open and Why That Likely Won’t Last Long.

Festivals cancelled, postponed, or who knows what?

Just this morning, I discovered that one of the Bay Area’s biggest festivals, the SFFilm Festival (formerly the San Francisco International Film Festival), has been cancelled for this year. It was, of course, the right thing to do. The Sonoma International Film Festival also closed.

The Albany FilmFest was the first Bay Area film festival to postpone (or maybe cancel) because of the coronavirus. I’ve been told by my press representative that the festival will eventually be rescheduled with the same films.

A few days ago, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival announced that it has rescheduled to November 11–15.

I couldn’t find any mention of coronavirus on The Jewish Film Institute website – their festival is too late in the year to worry about now. But they sent an email about a postponed March 26 event. If you have tickets, contact the JFI Box Office.

I hope and pray that this will be over soon, and that all these wonderful theaters and festivals will bounce back – along with the people who patronize them.

Throughout the crisis, I’ll be posting festival cancellations and theater closings in my Friday newsletter. What I won’t be posting will be recommendations for seeing movies in theaters.

One thought on “Going to the movies during a pandemic

  1. Thanks for your reporting, Lincoln. Movies are a true comfort and wonderful distraction during times of worry, like now. I do hope the custom of watching movies communally in theaters returns … it is a true joy for me to be in a theater and be immersed with others in watching a movie. For now, I am glad that movies can be watched at home.

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