For film fans in the Hudson Valley, movie nights haven’t been the same since the COVID-19 crisis.
Across the region, local theaters shut their doors in hopes of stopping the disease in its tracks back in March. So, when the Valley progressed through each of New York’s four phases for reopening, it seemed like only a matter of time before film hubs would be back in action.
That time has yet to come.
Even after the Hudson Valley received the OK to commence Phase 4 reopening, a number of industries, such as gyms and bowling alleys, still awaited approval. Now that both fitness and bowling centers are back in the swing of things, theaters remain in the dark about when they’ll be able to return to business once more.
During this uncertain period, the theaters of the Hudson Valley are doing what they can to stay afloat and continue to serve the community. In September, a number of local centers banded together to send a petition to Governor Cuomo for reopening guidelines. With Hudson Valley names like Bedford Playhouse, Catskill Mountain Foundation, Jacob Burns Film Center, The Moviehouse, The Picture House, Rosendale Theater, and Upstate Films all on the document, the call for action hits close to home.
In the letter, theater leaders highlight the benefits of film centers that are currently lacking during the shutdown.
“The art house cinemas of New York State have hundreds of thousands of devoted supporters and visitors who would argue [that theaters are essential]. To them, a visit to their favorite art house offers immeasurable benefit to their mental health and well-being,” they explain.
In an attempt to outline a path toward reopening, they mention the CinemaSafe campaign launched by the National Association of Theater Owners as an outline for movie theater safety protocol. They note that because art house cinemas are often smaller than big-name theaters such as Regal and AMC, they can provide additional security measures like the installation of MERV 13 filtration units in HVAC systems, extra spacing between screening times, and elimination of concession sales if required.
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With no word yet from New York State, Hudson Valley theater owners continue to wait…and wait. At Bedford Playhouse in Bedford, Executive Director Michael Hoagland expresses a desire to reopen as soon as possible. Already, he and his team have made changes to how the theater will operate going forward.
“Bedford Playhouse is ready to welcome guests back safely to the theater as soon as Governor Cuomo gives us the green light,” he says. “We have implemented NATO’s (National Association of Theater Owners) CinemaSafe guidelines, which include enhanced cleaning protocols and strict social distancing measures. We know the arts bring people together and look forward to opening our doors to the community once again soon.”
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Nearby in Westchester, Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center supports the operational changes outlined in the petition to New York State. During its in-person closure, it shifted gears to an online format to keep film programming alive in the Hudson Valley. Movie fans can head to the Jacob Burns website for a curated selection of new and repertory films available for streaming in the virtual screening room or participate in an online discussion or film-centric event.
“We are fortunate to have the support from our community to get us to the other side of the pandemic, though we acknowledge that some other wonderful film institutions may not be so lucky,” observes Interim Executive Director Margo Amgott. “We look forward to the day we can once again reopen our theater doors, but we stand by our commitment to be present for the community virtually in the meantime.”
Further upstate, Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter also anticipates an eventual reopening. In an effort to speed the process along, it has already installed MERV 13 filters in the HVAC systems for each of its movie screens. It is ready to apply the guidelines outlined in the petition, which include everything from face masks for patrons and staff to disposable gloves at concession stands, EPA-approved disinfectants for cleaning, and increased social distancing.
Due to the intimate nature of independent film centers, Catskill Mountain Foundation Chairman Peter Finn points out that COVID-19 safety protocol, and social distancing in particular, will be relatively easy to implement.
“Our movie theaters are never crowded, which will be a plus for us and our patrons once we reopen,” he says.
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While our theaters in Rhinebeck and Woodstock remain closed, we’ve figured out how to take the show on the road with outdoor screenings. Since you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you. Using our high-powered portable projector, we provide a movie-size 16’ x 9’ image on our brand new screen, plus plenty of sound with a pair of thumping loudspeakers, and even fresh, hot popcorn with our moveable popcorn machine! Upstate's received support from both the Frost Memorial Foundation and the Thomas Thompson Trust, as well as generous supporters; all of which is a great start in helping us to acquire air filtration and purification systems for the theater when we eventually reopen (fingers crossed). We are so grateful, and now we need to more than match that to make it a reality. We'd love your help to make this a reality. We're all set to make a house call to liven up a summer evening with socially distanced cinema under the stars. If you are interested in hiring Upstate ($1000) to run a high-quality, high-resolution movie screening for your private event (for a maximum of 50 people), please reach out to us via email: email@example.com. A portion of the fee is tax-deductible to the full extent of the law as Upstate Films is a 501c3.
At the crux of it all, reopening theaters symbolizes the chance to reconnect with friends and family and experience the rich film scene that flows throughout the Hudson Valley.
“Gathering with friends and family and like-minded movie-goers in a cinema together is one of the pleasures of life that we hope will return soon,” says Rhinebeck and Woodstock’s Upstate Films Co-Director Steve Leiber. “We appreciate our audience’s support during this challenging time for us all.”