Movie theaters gradually resume business

Chinese movie theaters in low-risk areas resume business
Photo taken on July 20 shows people in Ningbo, east China’s Zhejiang province, entering a movie theater after having their body temperatures taken. (Photo by Chen Zhangkun/People’s Daily Online)

Movie theaters in China’s low-risk areas finally reopened on Monday, July 20, after being closed for nearly six months due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Over 138,000 movie tickets were sold across the country on the first day since the resumption of operation, and a total of more than 8,600 screenings were arranged, accounting for around 5 percent of the average amount of daily screenings before the epidemic.

As the reboot uplifted confidence in the domestic film market and released people’s pent-up demand for watching movies at cinemas, many areas reported unexpected box office performance. The total turnover hit 3.5 million yuan (about $504,800) on Monday.

Comparing with the performance of Chinese cinemas on July 20, 2019, when the industry saw 357,000 screenings and 240 million yuan in box office revenue, and sold over 6.91 million tickets, this year’s figures represented the recovery of 1 to 2 percent for the Chinese film market.

Zhu Tingting, a female citizen in Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province is excited about the reopening of cinemas. Although she has been expecting the news since the Chinese Lunar New Year, her desire to watch movies at a cinema has grown stronger day by day, Zhu said.

“My 7-year-old son was so happy to learn that we can now watch movies at cinemas. He asked for me that our whole family go to the cinema together,” Zhu disclosed.

Chinese movie “A First Farewell” was the first film shown in the country on July 20. The movie had logged nearly 3,000 screenings as of Monday night, occupying 30 percent of the screens allowed.

A sufficient supply of movies is expected based on the situation of the first day of the reopening. Some classic Chinese and foreign films, including “The Wandering Earth” (2019) , “Ne Zha”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness”, which had achieved excellent box office results when they were first released, have started to hit China’s movie theaters.

A cineplex in Fuzhou, east China’s Jiangxi province, reopened four auditoriums and arranged 26 screenings on July 20, when its seat occupancy rate averaged 10 percent.

The theater mainly played classic movies on the day, according to Hu Chenhui, an executive of the cineplex, disclosing that in order to attract more audiences, the theater offered free tickets.

The majority of the audiences watching movies on July 20 were young people, including many students in summer vacation, Hu said.

During a 7:30 p.m. screening of “A First Farewell” at a movie theater in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong province, the attendance reached the upper limit of 30 percent set by the Chinese Film Circulation and Projection Association in a guideline for epidemic control.

Although the reboot shored up confidence in the country’s film industry, safety still remains the top priority for movie theaters.

According to the guideline, all the theaters should sell tickets online in a contactless way and require people to make real-name reservations online. Meanwhile, it should be ensured that audiences keep a distance of at least one meter from each other at the cinema and the attendance of each screening must not exceed 30 percent, the guideline specified.

The guideline also stipulated that audiences and staff members of movie theaters must wear masks the whole time during the screenings; movie theaters must take body temperatures of all audiences before allowing them to enter; no snack or drink should be sold at cinemas; and technically no eating or drinking should be allowed in auditoriums.

The guideline is significantly beneficial to movie theater industry, as it provides instructional direction and standards for the work of cinemas during the implementation of regular epidemic prevention and control measures and gives consideration to both people’s safety and the resumption of work in the industry in an orderly manner, according to industry insiders.

Many people who work in the industry expressed great confidence in movie theaters’ resuming operation during interviews with People’s Daily.

Zhang Haiyan, general manager of a film and television investment company based in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong province, found from relevant surveys that more than 80 percent of the people have shown their willingness to watch movies at cinema during the prevention and control of the COVID-19.

Although it’s more convenient to watch movies online, it cannot compare to the experience in theaters, said Rao Shuguang, head of China Film Critics Association.

“After all, some movies featuring advanced technologies and high-level industrialization as well as audio and visual standards can only be fully appreciated at cinemas. At the same time, the atmosphere in movie theaters gives a sense of ceremony to the movie-watching experience. Besides, movie theaters have long served as an important venue for social contact,” Rao pointed out.

Movie theaters remain the most important channel for demonstrating the value of movies and recovering cost of movies, according to industry insiders, who noted that the resumption of work in movie theaters means the whole film market has started running again.