Cinemas struggle to reopen amid new coronavirus regulations

The newly reopened theaters will have to follow a number of regulations.

'SCOOB!’ is one of the films scheduled to open in Israel next month. (photo credit: TULIP ENTERTAINMENT)
'SCOOB!’ is one of the films scheduled to open in Israel next month.
Cinema City, one of the country’s two largest theater chains, announced on Monday it will reopen on July 9. Lev Cinemas and some of the cinematheques are opening their doors as well, which is great news for movie lovers but doesn’t mean that the Israeli film world is returning to normal just yet.
The newly reopened theaters will have to follow a number of regulations. Patrons will need to wear masks, and seats between moviegoers will need to be left empty, meaning that theaters cannot operate at full capacity. All theaters will operate in accordance with the “purple tag” regulations of the Health Ministry, although many theaters have yet to make a decision about reopening, citing difficulties in figuring out how to cope with the regulations.
But cinephiles can still rejoice over the first good news since theaters were shut in mid-March. The Jerusalem Cinematheque starts screening films, including a special program focused on the pandemic, on June 22, and plans to hold its annual film festival on August 20.
A spokesperson confirmed on Monday that the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will begin showing the first commercial film to be screened since the beginning of the health crisis, the Catherine Deneuve-Gerard Depardieu comedy, Nobody’s Perfect! (known as Bonne Pomme in French) on June 29. The movie will also be shown at the Kochav Cinema in Ramat HaSharon on that date, and then will be screened at other theaters around the country starting July 9.
The Japanese film Complicity will be coming to Israel later this summer.
The Lev Cinemas arthouse chain announced Monday that it will reopen on July 9.
There have been several questions concerning the reopening of the multiplexes, which rely on commercial blockbusters. Principal among them is: What will they show?
The high-profile summer releases, such as the much-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984, have been postponed until autumn. Several Israeli movies that had been planned for summer release – and Israeli audiences have been showing up more and more in recent years for locally made films – such as Full Speed, the sequel to the teen motorcycle movie Full Gas, had to suspend production when the virus hit. In the case of Full Speed, the producers confirmed that they were working around the clock to get the film ready for an August release.
Cinema City released a partial list of the films it will begin showing in July, and many of these are films for children, which should please parents who are coping with cabin fever. The first on the list is Scoob!, a new mystery involving Scooby Doo and the gang, which will open in Cinema City (and, according to the distributor, in any other theater chains that decide to open as well), and will hit theaters on July 9.
Other kids’ movies opening later in the summer include Trolls World Tour, a sequel to the popular animated film Trolls, and will feature the voice of Ninet Tayeb in the version dubbed into Hebrew; and Dolittle, starring Robert Downy Jr. as the latest incarnation of the doctor who can talk to animals.
THERE WILL also be several movies for adults that will be shown at Cinema City and other theaters, such as the Yes Planet chain, which at press time had not made a decision about how and when it would reopen. These films will include Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi espionage thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson; The High Note, a drama about the music business, starring Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross; The Rental, a thriller by Dave Franco starring Alison Brie; and Love Sarah, a film about three generations who team up to open a bakery in London, on which Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi was an adviser.
While it’s great news that these films will be in theaters, this is only a small part of what the lineup for a normal summer season would look like.
Amid the joy over the prospect of movies being shown on the big screen again, cinema owners and the entire movie industry are struggling to come to grips with the reality of the hardships imposed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. A particularly sore point is the fact that unlike other sectors of Israeli culture, such as theaters, opera and museums, the movies have not received any governmental support.
Key players in the film industry have been holding private talks with officials from the Culture Ministry, in a series of discussions that have become acrimonious at times. The Culture Ministry invests directly in most movies made in Israel – you can see the title card acknowledging their support come up before the movie starts – but designated movies as “entertainment” rather than “culture” when it came to allocating money from the $200 million shekels it has given to support the arts during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the ministry did not have a statement at press time but confirmed that discussions are ongoing.
The refusal to support the film industry is shortsighted and could ultimately prove to be a “death warrant” for Israeli movies, according to director Avi Nesher.
“It’s amazing, it’s like we’re back in the 1950s, when the establishment did not consider movies to be culture,” he said. Israeli movies, which have been so successful abroad in recent years, “have become a strategic weapon for the Israeli government. They are the best hasbara [public diplomacy] for Israel abroad. And by not supporting the movie industry, they are depriving Israelis of the art that is the most popular at home.”
Nesher, who is currently recording the soundtrack for the latest movie he is working on, a drama about the War of Independence, noted that coronavirus regulations, which prevent too many people from being in one room at one time, will inflate costs of movie making up to 25%, since smaller crews and casts will mean that it will take longer to complete filming.
The decision to exclude movies from cultural financial support “is incredibly short sighted,” he said. “The Culture Ministry just has to admit it made a mistake and take action. The exclusion of movies from the arts support is an unbelievably horrendous mistake which will have severe consequences externally and internally.”