In the wake of the China Film Administration announcing yesterday the reopening of cinemas on July 20, there’s been several questions as to what China is determining to be a low or high risk COVID-19 area. We heard from a number of industry sources today that the majority of the country’s exhibitors can reopen except for Beijing and its immediate five market surrounding area as newly confirmed COVID-19 cases remain high there at 226.
While there’s been this notion that the reopening in China will be slow, one source tells us, that’s not the case: major circuits like Wanda are poised to open next week. In addition, even those cinemas in Shanghai which are not involved with the film festival, can reopen as well.
Why is China’s reopening of cinemas so much faster than the U.S. in which there’s typically a lag time between a state/county government’s approval and an actual multiplex reopening? While there’s currently an estimated 1,5K theaters out of 5k open in the U.S. that number is poised to decline this weekend given recent outbreaks stateside, not to mention about 300 drive-ins are still accounting for the weekend’s box office.
“There’s been a lot of preparations and discussions going on over the last month and each of the chains have done a lot of work. As out of the blue as it may seem to us, there’s a central authority in China that says when cinemas can reopen. Here, that comes from the local governments,” explains Imax Corporation CEO Rich Gelfond on China’s uniform set of exhibition standards. Earlier today, Imax China announced a new decade partnership with Wanda Film, that will see the chain upgrading the large format exhibitor’s existing locations in major cities and installing technology in ten new sites.
As we reported yesterday, movies will be released in phases in China, starting with classic catalog titles in the immediate future so that theaters can practice and get acquainted with the new safety protocols. This supply will eventually move to Hollywood’s backlog of 2019-2020 titles like 1917, Jojo Rabbit, Bad Boys for Life, Sonic, etc. However, key local movies such as the Imax lensed Detective Chinatown 3 could go as late as Oct. 1, a National Day in the Middle Kingdom. We’ll have a better idea on the exact rollout of titles in the coming days or sooner.
With theaters reopening, can Warner Bros.’ Tenet or Disney’s Mulan open in China before the U.S.?
It’s too soon to tell, but some have their doubts that these movies wouldn’t go in China without Beijing being in the mix.
Some of the COVID-19 safety rulings released yesterday for the Middle Kingdom include such terms as no concessions being sold, temperatures of all audience members, and the wearing of masks throughout the entire show. Here in the states in those areas dictating that masks be worn, moviegoers have typically been wearing them in the lobby but once they get to their seats, remove them as they consume their concessions. Another interesting ruling in China: Cinemas can’t book any movies with running times over 2 hours. Auditoriums must be under 30% capacity, with a meter distance between each moviegoer. Movie theaters will provide masks, gloves and sanitizers to all employees and attendees, and of course a rigorous cleaning routine with “at least two times disinfection a day for public areas such as lobby, theatres, washrooms, and hallway. At least 5 times disinfection a day for ticketing machine, vending machine, public chairs, and key areas in washrooms. Disinfection after every session for supplies have direct contact with audiences including seat arms, 3D glasses, and epidemic prevention garbage handled separately at the end of everyday,” according to a translated document Deadline received.
“With theaters all over the world shut down, China also wants to show that it has handled the virus better than anyone else so it can be the first to open its theaters, even if it’s on a selective and carefully controlled basis. Approving the Shanghai International Film Festival — albeit without foreigners not already based in China — is another example of being the first to return to some kind of normalcy. Assuming it works, they should get some good international press coverage of this. It makes China look relatively good, particularly since Hong Kong is now suffering its ‘third wave’ of virus infections, and also shows that democratic Taiwan, which has gotten a great deal of positive publicity and is even often listed as a successful ‘country’ in fighting the virus, is not the only model for success in beating back the virus among Chinese communities,” USC professor Stanley Rosen tells us.
However, exhibitors in the Middle Kingdom should still knock on wood, especially since there’s no vaccine yet. When China tried to reopen cinemas at the end of March, they quickly shut down as COVID-19 cases spiked from foreign visitors. Now, with a majority of regions such as Shanghai (29 new COVID-19 cases as of July 13), Liaoning (12), Sichuan (9), Guangdong (8), Tianjin (5), Hebei (4), Shaanxi (4) and Gansu (3) under control, there seems to be a greater sense of hope on the horizon.
Says Gelfond, “We closed in China before the Chinese New Year and we’ve been waiting for the government to say that it’s safe to return to theaters. That’s an important milestone for us. If you look at other countries that have reopened, the public welcomes a return to theaters when it’s safe. We saw this in Paris, France last week, and in South Korea last weekend as well as Japan. When theaters reopen, it’s not as though the coronavirus never existed. But I think people want to get out of their homes, and want to go to the movies and want to do social things. I think it’s an important milestone in the country returning to some level of normalcy.”