“Life isn’t like in a movie. Life … is a lot harder.”
This is what the wise projectionist said in Giuseppe Tornatore’s film “Cinema Paradiso” from 1988. In March 2020, movie theaters around the world closed as the COVID-19 pandemic spread seriously.
To adapt, many independent theaters switched to a virtual demonstration model.
“Although our theater was closed for most of 2020, surprisingly it was still an extremely busy year for The Roxie,” said Lex Sloan, general manager of the historic, non-profit Roxie Theater, which is more than 100 years old. “Within two weeks of closing, we opened Roxie Virtual Cinema and began programming a dynamic series of films to keep engaging with our audiences.”
By the end of 2020, The Roxie had shown more than 200 virtual titles and engaged 30 artists and filmmakers. “Virtual cinema wasn’t lucrative,” says Sloan, “but it was a great way to keep our members and patrons busy!”
The Roxie has also partnered with the Sundance Film Festival to host screenings at Fort Mason Flix, a series of drive-in films hosted by the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.
Meanwhile, giants battled – Cineworld suffered a $ 3 billion loss in 2020 – and sparked skepticism about whether the cinema industry could revive itself, already at risk from the rise of streaming services.
Beloved theaters went dark. The streets grew silent. Fear and sadness stained the air.
Hope was not lost, however.
“STAY HEALTHY AND SAFE”, read the marquee of the Castro Theater. “WE WILL BE BACK SOON.” As promised, The Castro reopened on June 26th and 27th to screen a range of films for the 45th annual Frameline Festival known as “the Bay Area’s most prominent and well-attended LGBTQ + arts program”. The Roxie also hosted multiple frameline functions, as it has been doing every year for over four decades.
When Bay Area favorites like the Balboa Theater and The Vogue reopened in early June, there was good news. Previously in financial freefall, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema emerged from bankruptcy under the new leadership of Altamont Capital Partners, an acquisition managed by Fortress Investment Group LLC and Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League. The dine-in-cinema chain, which used to face a string of layoffs and cuts due to the pandemic, has now announced that it will open five new theaters within the next year. (Mission Street Alamo is scheduled to reopen August 13th.)
Additionally, the COVID-19 closings were not entirely destructive. Traditional theaters like The Roxie took the opportunity to undertake several renovations.
“The lobby has new carpets and tiles, a fresh paint job, and much-needed [Americans with Disabilities Act] Improvements, “says Sloan.” Thanks to a generous grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, we now have air conditioning and improved air filtration. “
The Roxie also brought its “Take A Seat on 16th St.” on the market. Campaign to replace the used seating (originally from the Coronet Theater) with state-of-art seating from the Irwin Seating Company.
“I believe The Roxie not only survived the pandemic, but found new ways to thrive,” Sloan says.
On May 21st, The Roxie reopened with a screening of “Cinema Paradiso”, the winner of an audience poll. This showing was followed by David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” which was shown frequently as a Roxie midnight film in the 1970s and 1980s. On May 22nd, “Eraserhead” was presented in all its surreal, eerie glory in 35mm. The first showing opened with a media meltdown drag show, which Sloan described as “jaw trapping”.
On July 17th, Lynch will return to The Roxie with a 35mm screening of “Mulholland Drive”. Further screenings in mid-July include Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly” and “Linda and The Mockingbirds”, presented by the Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy and the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts.
In early August, The Roxie will show Beth B’s “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over”, with a personal visit from Lunch himself. David Lowery’s “The Green Knight,” a 4K restoration of Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Castle of Cagilostro” and Pablo Larrain’s “Ema” will also be shown this summer.
The Roxie is currently 50 percent full with limited show times. Masks remain required for entry but can be removed while eating and drinking in the theater. In the meantime, the Roxie Virtual Cinema will continue to offer streaming options.
“The doors of the Roxie were closed for 434 days, and despite the difficulties, I never doubted we would open again,” says Sloan.
“The patrons told me that it feels so good to finally be home.”
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Copyright © 2021 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse is prohibited without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc.