Why SA cinemas haven't reopened yet

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  • In June president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that cinemas will be allowed to reopen during lockdown Level 3.
  • Due to practical reasons cinemas haven't reopened yet.
  • The South African cinemas industry committee hope to announce a reopening date by next week.


Cinemas across South Africa remain closed due to Covid-19 – although the government recently allowed them to reopen – the industry hopes to announce a reopening date by next week.

Cinema chains and independent theatres all shut down in the last week of March.

This coming Friday the big screens inside the dark theatres with their soft seats where moviegoers munched on popcorn will have been without a flickering for four months and counting – just one of the sectors within the country's broader entertainment and TV and film industry that have been left reeling and suffering massive damage because of the commercial shut down.

In late-June the South African government gazetted new lockdown rules allowing for the reopening of cinemas, restaurants and casinos who can open their doors but are not allowed to have more than 50 people.

Due to practical reasons, South African cinemas haven't reopened and been able to welcome moviegoers back.

READ MORE | SA cinemas preparing to reopen under strict safety protocols

South Africa's cinemas industry committee – comprising Nu Metro, Ster-Kinekor, other cinema groups, distributors, film studio representatives and other stakeholders – are again convening this week to map out the coordinated industry's reopening.

"We expect to be able to confirm reopening dates for cinemas by next week," Walter Gelderblom, Nu Metro spokesperson tells Channel24.

"Engagement is also still ongoing with the government to clarify and discuss certain points, and to also obtain approval for cinemas' health and safety protocol-submissions as required by the gazetted regulations," he explains.

"The health and safety of staff and customers is of paramount importance, so these discussions need to ensure all bases and eventualities are covered, also in light of the current rising rate of infections nationwide."

Walter says that one of the key limiting factors at this stage "is the lack of new content – due to almost all films' release dates having been postponed by the international film studios and distributors".

On Monday, for example, Tenet – an upcoming science fiction action thriller film written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan – became the latest big-screen blockbuster that was postponed indefinitely in the latest blow to cinemas, and will no longer get a traditional global day-and-date release.

CINEMA COST-CUTTING COMING

Ryan Williams, Ster-Kinekor CEO, says the cinema chain continues to engage with the government around a safe and responsible reopening for movie theatres.

The situation at the shuttered Ster-Kinekor echoes the problems and challenges faced by Nu Metro, as well as the string of smaller and independent cinemas dotted across the country.

"As with many other businesses and industries, the absence of any revenue in our company over the past months has meant a hard look at our cost base. From May, most of our staff are on temporary lay-off with a handful of essential workers earning on a reduced hourly basis," says Ryan Williams.

He explains that Ster-Kinekor has planned to make large cost cuts when the theatre chain reopens in various areas of the business "as we cannot afford some things as we restart".

"This is particularly necessary as we anticipate much higher cleaning and sanitation costs in our business when we are allowed to reopen in order to keep our environment safe for our staff and our guests."

"We have accepted that this is likely to be a 'new normal' for a period of time, and it is our duty to ensure that we are responsible in providing our services to all South Africans in a safe way when the big screen lights up again."

He says Ster-Kinekor doesn't plan on closing any cinema locations. "All locations are reviewed on a location by location basis when our leases come to an end, and if the location makes business sense at that time, we will look to continue trading there."

Ryan says that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the cinema industry as a whole.

"As the world started to feel the effects of Covid-19, more and more of the major blockbuster movie release dates started moving out, which has had a knock-on effect on our revenue projections."

ALSO READ | Nu Metro on closed cinemas: The day will come when all movie fans can again join in the shared experience

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