Movie theaters are opening, but should they?

Last year I wrote an article about the joys of seeing a movie theatrically. It’s so much better than watching one at home. In theory, I still believe it. I would love to sit down in a crowded cinema, get close to the giant screen, and share an emotional experience with hundreds of happy strangers.

For the first time in months, local residents have the option to do just that. At least three local multiplexes have advertised movies in theaters, although I’m not sure the screenings ever happened. The Rafael has opened for a few screenings recently. And Landmark will likely screen a film this month.

But I’m staying home, and I’m recommending you do the same. That’s not just for your health, but for the wellbeing of the whole Bay Area.

The Alameda Historical Theatre

Just how dangerous is it to go to a cinema during a pandemic? The theater managers are working to make their venues as safe as they can. Everyone must wear masks. Reduced capacity and reserved tickets helps enforce social distancing. You can visit the CinemaSafe website for more information.

And yet, going to a movie may still be dangerous. Outside of drive-ins, movie theaters are indoors – much more dangerous than being outside. You sit there for maybe two hours. In the dark, no one can tell that some jerk took off their mask. When the movie is over, people may crowd together on the way out. Keep in mind that you’re not just gambling with your life; you may be spreading the virus around the bay.

Last week, I got a press release about an upcoming movie from Sony called The Climb. I was surprised to find out that the film will open November 13 at the Embarcadero Center and the Shattuck – two Landmark Theaters that have been open closed since spring. A press contact told me that “According to what Sony is telling us, those Landmark theaters are opening for real screenings.”

Happy patrons at the Castro for the SF Silent Film Festival

I will be reviewing The Climb – at home. I’m skeptical that the film will screen theatrically in the Bay Area. It seems like every time a city, state, or country relaxes its vigilance, COVID cases rise. Just the day after I heard about The Climb, I opened the Chronicle and got the headline “Cases up, S.F. freezes reopening.”

I deeply want to go to a movie theater, and not just for myself. Owners and former employees are struggling. The longer we avoid the theaters, the more of them will die for good. Until then, buy movies via virtual cinema, donate to a favorite theater (hey, you can stop making political donations now). And hope that one day, we’ll see each other at the movies.