Tucson art house movie theater, The Loft Cinema, debuted their newest form of COVID-19-friendly movie watching this September.
"Open Air Cinema" screenings, where viewers can watch The Loft’s showings outside, seated in the parking lot, began over Labor Day weekend. They have proved to be a safe way for Tucsonans to enjoy films in a similar environment to the theater while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
“It’s a way of showing movies even though we’re closed,” said Jeff Yanc, program director at The Loft. “We've been showing movies virtually since we closed back in March, but we really wanted to do some live screenings.”
Open Air Cinema's first screenings were “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, “Do the Right Thing” and “Selena.” Moviegoers purchased tickets on The Loft’s website. General admission for Open Air Cinema screenings is $15 and admission for Loft members is $12.
Jason Denholm, director of theatre operations, reported that the outdoor screenings have been successful.
“Everything has sold out so far,” Denholm said. “It's been great to have people back. The patrons all seem to be really, really thrilled to be back. It's nice to do something as a community again.”
In order to set up Open Air Cinema, the theater set out to build a new screen.
“We were thinking about projecting on the back of the building, but it did have some protrusions on it,” Denholm said. “We worked with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. They’re a local union here, and we built out a nice surface for the image to be projected on.”
According to Candace Ripley, one of the assistant theater managers, in addition to building a new screen, The Loft’s team has ensured that Open Air Cinema complies with COVID-19 safety guidelines by gathering outdoors and including staff in gathering's under 50 people. Only 45 audience members may be seated per screening, she said.
Although Arizona cinemas were allowed to reopen their indoor theaters starting in the last week of August, The Loft made the choice to keep their indoor theaters closed to the public.
“We’re not totally comfortable, yet, with the safety level,” Yanc said. “We care about our staff and we care about our audience and we don’t want to put anyone in any undue danger.”
Although the pandemic has been difficult for movie theaters all across the nation, Yanc has found some silver linings. He predicted that the new COVID-19 innovations at The Loft will most likely stay even after the pandemic is over.
“This [COVID-19] era has forced movie theaters to be innovative, creative and problem-solving,” Yanc explained. “Nothing will be as it was before March, but I think it will be better."
Throughout the pandemic, The Loft has seen support from the community through donations and memberships.
“It’s been really heartening that the community seems to want us to be here and ride this out and come back in a strong way,” Yanc said. “And we will, we just don’t know when.”
Ripley and Denholm are also thankful for Tucson’s community during the pandemic.
“Our official mission statement is we are building community by celebrating the art and diversity of film,” Denholm said. “Community is huge. We want to do things that are going to bring people together.”
In addition to appreciating the community’s support, Denholm is also thankful for The Loft’s staff and their adaptability during the pandemic. “Our staff has done wonderfully with pivoting and figuring out new ways to to deal with everything. We are really, really happy,” Denholm said.
Out of the films shown in the Open Air Cinema series, Yanc expressed excitement for the screening of Chinese martial arts hit, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Ripley is looking forward to teen comedy “Clueless” and Denholm suggested the Spanish black comedy-drama “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
Those interested in The Loft’s upcoming outdoor screenings can check out their Facebook. Those interested in purchasing tickets for outdoor showings or digital streaming can do so on The Loft’s website.
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