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Landmark Cinemas CEO admits frustration as theatres wait to reopen

Part of our return to normal is going to the movies.

And if 65 percent of B.C.’s adult population has at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and case numbers continue to go down, it’ll be part of our lives again as early as June 15th.

Landmark Cinemas Canada CEO Bill Walker is banking on it, and targets a mid-June opening for their theatres in Campbell River, Courtenay, and Nanaimo.

But Walker admits he’s frustrated about a return to things like indoor dining and group fitness, while movie theatres remain dark.

“Restaurants don’t have specific capacity limits, they just have to enforce physical distancing or physical barriers, and ultimately when you think about theatres, we have these massive cavernous auditoriums with independent HVAC and significantly more personal space per occupant, but we have this 50 person per auditorium (restriction) regardless of seating format or auditorium size,” he said.

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“Whereas a relatively small restaurant can just throw in some plexiglass and jam people in there, and then frankly when they’re at a restaurant now, they don’t even need to be with their own household and that’s open and available today. Whereas we’re still waiting for the 15th of June and operating at 50 per auditorium for a venue that has all the space, and ultimately when you’re there, everybody sits in one direction and doesn’t talk.”

So, Walker said, from a transmission and risk perspective, “it’s kind of fascinating how we get categorized where we have, and that’s a bit frustrating and we’re on the right track towards opening.. but we’re hopeful that will be June 15th.”

Walker believes movie theatres are unique venues, designed to keep customers safe from COVID.

“We control the showtimes, we control the seat maps, we control the flow of seats in a very linear way that none of these other venues can,” he said. 

“That’s where our frustration stems from, is that in retail and restaurants, and fitness centres are opening ahead of movie theatres while transmission is unequivocally happening in those venues whereas theatres… it’s never even been suggested that it’s happening based on the way that theatres are set up and the way we’ve executed on our policies, yet here we are, waiting for clarity and waiting for the middle of the month.” 

Walker said once capacity restrictions are lifted, the company can truly start to recover.

If and when Landmark theatres reopen, we’ll see the same safety measures as when they were forced to close in November.

That includes reserved tickets only, seat maps, occupancy restrictions, and space between seats to maintain physical distancing, just to name a few.

As for staffing, Landmark’s full-time management has stayed on board, running concession take-out sales in the majority of their locations.

They also keep in touch with the part-time staff who were laid off, and Walker says all indications say they’re still interested in coming back to work at the theatre.

Once the theatres are up and running again, expect to see a backlog of movies that haven’t been released to theatres including A Quiet Place, Cruella, and as we get into June there is a new Conjuring movie, In the Heights, Hitman’s Bodyguard and Fast & Furious 9.

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