Operators 'devastated' as B.C. movie theatres close again under new restrictions: association director

·2 min read

Movie theatres across the province have been told to close again under the latest restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 amid a growing spike in cases — and the industry fears many may not survive a second shutdown.

The latest restrictions prohibit all indoor and outdoor community gatherings until at least Dec. 7. This means no galas, theatre performances, musical concerts or film screenings in a theatre.

Cineplex, Canada's biggest movie theatre operator, shut down its cinemas in March but re-opened at the end of summer with new restrictions in place.

Other independent theatres reopened but struggled to stay afloat as major studios delayed releases or sent them straight to streaming.

Ken Charko, the owner of the independent Dunbar Theatre and a director of the Movie Picture Theatre Association of Canada, says the closures feel inconsistent with how many safety protocols theatres have implemented in response to COVID-19.

"We've done everything that we're required by the different legislative bodies to do and now we're getting very conflicting information on what we should do," Charko told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast.

Charko said he reduced capacity at the Dunbar Theatre from 400 people to 40 guests, and then later 24 guests.

"We have 12 feet between people and it's social distancing like that," he said. "We provide the safest place for someone to go to be able to do something to get outside of the house, which is good for your mental as well as physical being."

Charko says other theatre operators with the Movie Picture Theatre Association are "devastated" by the closures, especially after a difficult summer season. Like other theatres, the Dunbar Theatre has shifted considerably to off-sales of popcorn and doughnuts to make up lost revenue.

Many owners, he says, were looking forward to the winter Christmas rush, during which they usually make about 35 per cent of their revenue.

"A lot of theatres, especially independent theaters that closed down, may not open up [again]," he said.

"We are struggling at the best of times to be able to keep it open."