Let’s All Go To The Movies

Box office knockout, Peter Rabbit
2 with Domhnall Gleeson. – Sony Pictures

Brian Quinn

Cinemas reopen nationwide

It’s always the small things we miss most in life. Last December, when Irish cinemas were forced to close once again due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, I found myself craving the concession stand as much as I did the silver screen. 
Buttered popcorn holds a special place in my heart, I say heart, it’s more like a ticking time bomb at this stage. The last time I helped myself to a bucket – and thankfully, the last time I helped myself to anything from a bucket – was July 31st 2019, during a showing of Disney’s Lion King remake. The auld gang was reunited once again: Me, Mufasa and a warm bucket of buttery kernels. Needless to say, my body never forgave me, but my mind hasn’t stopped thinking about it: replaying each handful and unnerving palpitation like a cherished holiday slideshow. The film? It was ok, I guess.
For me, it’s these little indulgences that make up the cinema experience: the moment the lights dim; sitting through the trailers; strategically snacking during particularly noisy scenes so as not to disturb my fellow neighbours, and glaring at those who don’t follow my strict sense of decorum. We’ve had to do without these rituals for the last several months, forced inside to mindlessly doomscroll our streaming services, socials and news sites, looking for any form of distraction. “What’s this? Bernie Sanders in wooly mittens but in varying and surprising contexts? I’ll take it!” What can I say? Desperate times call for delightful memes.
Thankfully, this past June saw Irish cinemas fully reopen nationwide, meaning meme creators could cool off for the time being. In a televised address made on May 28th, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that June 7th would see the reopening of cinemas and theatres across the country. After a year without visitors, venue owners could finally welcome back cooped up culture vultures eager to while away the hours they saved up in the interim.
Some cinemas were quick out of the blocks: IMC, Omniplex, Odeon cinemas and Movies@Dundrum were back in business the morning of June 7th, while the IFI (Irish Film Institute) and Parnell street’s Cineworld held back, deciding to reopen on the 10th and 18th, respectively. Late to the party, however, the Lighthouse cinema, located in Smithfield Square, swung open their doors on June 25th. The delay meant that health and safety protocols could be carefully implemented, and ensured that new cinema staff – which counts as the majority considering the drastic effect the pandemic has had on employee retention – received full PPE training. 
A lot has changed if you haven’t stepped foot inside a cinema since March 2020. For starters, pre-booking your tickets online is strongly encouraged. And while face masks are mandatory, you are welcome to remove them once you are seated in your screen. But note that getting to that screen requires you to follow a one-way system, dotted with signage to guide the way – one way in, one way out. Now for my favourite addition: allocated seating which will automatically leave two empty seats between all separate bookings. This is to ensure customers are kept two metres apart, as per HSE guidelines. On top of that, every second row will also be left completely empty, and you know what that means – no more infuriating kicks to the back of your chair, hallelujah!
As expected, opening week saw cinema programmes packed with titles caught in the backlog. Oscar winners, Nomadland, The Father and Sound of Metal were screened at long last. Nomadland even managed to sell out multiple shows at the Lighthouse and the IFI throughout the month – a tad surprising considering it’s been available to stream on Disney + since April 30th. Homegrown talent was well represented too, with Wolfwalkers, Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away and The 8th making up a strong Irish selection.
Hopping to the top of Irish box office charts, however, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway proved the most popular among cinema goers. Though if the numbers tell us anything, it’s that audiences will always show up for sequels. A Quiet Place Part II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and Godzilla Vs Kong all helped themselves to a piece of the box office pie. Of course, multiplexes will be hoping this summer’s blockbusters provide a much needed boost in revenue, with Fast & Furious 9, Marvel’s Black Widow and James Gunn’s Suicide Squad among the most anticipated. 
Welcoming me back to theatres with open, pop ‘n’ locking arms was In the Heights, Jon M. Chu’s unapologetically joyful musical set within New York’s thriving Latinx community. Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s multi-award-winning stage show, In the Heights proved the perfect way to kick off popcorn season with its giddy mix of West Side Story and Rent. It may be overstuffed at times and, oh boy, is it long, but if there’s a film that warrants a big screen outing, this is it.
Unsurprisingly, it’s arthouse theatres which have suffered most during the pandemic, many having to pivot their business online just to keep afloat. The IFI introduced IFI@Home July last year, a video-on-demand platform which, according to IFI director Ross Keane, is fully “committed to supporting filmmakers both at home and abroad by making their work available to as wide an audience as possible.” Across the River Liffey, Element Pictures, who oversee the Lighthouse cinema, ran an eight week campaign last year offering 1000s of free Irish films to audiences through Volta, their very own streaming service. Thankfully these initiatives, along with a strong ability to engage with audiences through social media and weekly newsletters, meant Dublin’s local arthouses could retain, if not grow, their customer base before reopening.
It’s been a long intermission for us film fans, filled with small screens and – if you’ve been using Zoom – even smaller screens. But now it’s time to put down the phone, leave our laptops and TVs behind, grab some popcorn (preferably buttered), and head out to the pictures. It’s showtime!