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In the early weeks of COVID-19 pandemic, cinemas across the world were forced to take down their marquees and close their doors to theatre-goers. Duncan’s sole movie theatre, the Caprice Duncan (under cinema chain Hollywood 3 Cinemas) endured a three-month closure until it managed to re-open on June 12th.
I spoke with Hollywood 3 Cinemas owner Moby Amarsi last month about the movie-going experience during COVID and how the Caprice is keeping the show on the road.
Will the Caprice stay in business?
The movie theatre industry took a big blow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amarsi says the Caprice is making do with its present circumstances, and that business could still pick up in time. At least for now, the cinema continues to stay afloat.
The cinema has experienced a downturn of theatre attendees since it reopened, Amarsi says. Alongside fears of COVID-19’s spread, Amarsi attributes the Caprice’s lack of patrons to the lack of blockbuster attractions. “We’ve all been impacted because the product is not there,” says Amarsi. “If there’s no product, it’s very hard to get people to come in.”
Prior to the pandemic, 2020 had a jam-packed slate of tentpole theatrical releases that movie-lovers could look forward to, including titles such as Wonder Woman, James Bond, and Dune. Since the pandemic, a slew of major Hollywood studios announced release date delays for their theatrical lineups. Others opted instead to have new releases available via video-on-demand, such as Disney’s Mulan.
The Caprice Duncan has two auditoriums. Playing this week are The War with Grandpa and Ghostbusters (1984). The Kid Detective and Let Him Go will begin screening on Friday.
“These are not blockbusters,” says Amarsi. “These are your bread-and-butter movies and they’re okay.”
Amarsi says that while audiences can still look forward to new mid-tier releases in the near future, he foresees that the theatre business might pick up again mid-2021 during the summer blockbuster season. “We don’t know exactly when it’s going to turn, but it looks like around April or May, it should start to turn around.”
Amarsi also notes that Hollywood 3 Cinemas is also getting a fair amount of business in booking private screenings. He hopes for an uptick in the holiday season. “People will want Christmas parties and stuff like that, so we’re hoping that once they get exposed to the cinema, they realize that it’s not as scary as they thought it would be.”
For now, Amarsi is looking to government aid to keep theatre operations afloat. He notes a rent relief subsidy announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October. “We’re also getting some subsidy back from employment. Obviously, you have to feed money into (the theatre), but I think that we’ve kept enough provision to be able to sustain us for the near future.”
How is the Caprice keeping up with COVID-19 precautions?
Amarsi says that the process of maintaining the theatre’s upkeep is now more complex. It entails more detailed cleaning of seats after every showtime and disinfecting all areas of the theatre exhaustively.
“(The process) is a little bit more involved than what it used to be,” says Amarsi. “But I think we’ve gotten used to it now. I guess it’s going to be around for a while.”
Amarsi says that theatre attendance is now running at 10 to 15 per cent capacity. With social distancing measures in place, movies can no longer play to a full house. By a public health order, attendance is capped at 50 people. Each showing has to leave entire rows empty and have several empty seats in-between groups of patrons.
According to Amarsi, the theatre put in plenty of work to ensure all protocols are met prior to re-launch. They had to purchase antiviral cleaners, stronger disinfectants, as well as masks and face shields for the theatre employees. “At the time a lot of these supplies were short so we could not find them all, but we eventually did until we were able to open in the middle of June.”
Amsari says, from his perspective, it is safe to go to the movies. As COVID-19 numbers climb in B.C., provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says that new measures will target activities and spaces where outbreaks continue. If the cinema industry can continue to avoid becoming a vector for the virus, it will likely avoid another shutdown. Whether patrons will return soon enough and in large enough numbers to sustain the industry remains to be seen.
The Caprice is located on Duncan Street in the heart of the historical economic centre of Duncan. It is the same site where Duncan’s world-renowned dairy cooperative burned down. Then known as the Caprice Twin, the movie theatre was built in its place in the 1980s. Amarsi and Hollywood 3 Cinemas took ownership in 2014. For now, Amarsi is optimistic that the show will go on.