The temporary closing of the Naro Cinema on March 20th of this year marked the beginning of a long period of anticipation for the extended Naro family. We originally planned for a July 4th weekend reopening with showings of the Spielberg classic ‘Jaws’ as a fun and fearful allegory of our current viral predator. But that goal quietly faded away as we came to realize we are subject to the timetable of the coronavirus. As it lies patiently in waiting, we must wait too.
But this prolonged scenario of sitting in limbo grows ever more surreal as the elusive promise of reopening continues to recede into the unknown future. Looking back in fond memory over our many years together, our devoted audience and dedicated staff yearns for that golden time when we were able to socialize freely and appreciate each other’s smile.
We have had to say good-bye to the days of such live events and film series as Mal Vincent’s Summer Classics and FlickIt! Fridays and New Non-Fiction Film and FirstLook Film Forum. Whenever the Naro does reopen, we will have to keep it simple, and program a limited schedule of film showings as we bide our time until the pandemic mitigates.
In looking to reopen, the Naro shares similar concerns as live concert producers and performing arts companies that stage indoor events with audience seating placed in close proximity. All of these arts and music companies are now looking out toward sometime next year for possible reopening dates. How will these non-profit arts groups be able to weather such prolonged closings without any revenue? How will their staffs and talent be able to sustain an income without the necessary funding of the arts?
The opening of movie theaters was to provide the test model for the subsequent reopening of live indoor events such as Broadway theater, live concerts, and the scheduling of events for the Virginia Arts Festival. But in order for movie theaters to successfully reopen, there must be the availability of high-profile films, and the big Hollywood film releases as well as the bigger independent art films have been repeatedly kicked back from their initial opening dates and rescheduled for late summer, fall, or into next year. It’s the proverbial chicken or the egg scenario. Nothing will happen until there are enough active theaters in all the big markets, especially in New York and L.A. that will make it worthwhile for the major distributors to open their films.
But theaters can’t reopen without widespread confidence by the public in the act of safely sitting in a darkened theater for two hours. Many people, especially older boomers, still don’t feel safe returning to populated indoor spaces. In recent polls by the Hollywood Reporter, only around a third of Americans say they would be willing to return to theaters this year. Those numbers could go up as information about health and safety practices are made available. Public trust should increase as businesses provide more info about air circulation and particle filtration for airborne transmission of aerosols that can linger in the air.
As of publishing time, the only local theater now in operation is the Commodore in downtown Portsmouth. Fred Schoenfeld’s 1945 restored single-screen showpiece opened early as a restaurant that shows movies. He admits that his theater attendance has been deficient, but that he’s limited to showing older film releases that are now available on home streaming services. Most of the large national chains have postponed their theater openings to later July or August, dependent upon the opening dates of Tenet and Disney’s Mulan that are now rescheduled for later August.
I am not good at making predictions about almost anything, and especially about the longer term repercussions of the pandemic. But many pundits have called this the end of movie theaters, and indeed it may be for many, especially some of the large corporate chains that are drowning under colossal debt and whose stock prices have tanked. In contrast, smaller independent theaters and art screens could be resurrected if landlords, creditors, and local governments can support and intervene on their behalf.
The one positive development for art screens during the pandemic has been the rapid rise of ‘virtual cinema’ that unexpectedly came together in the vacuum created by theater closings. Small specialty film distributors began an experiment to take the films that were originally designated for the big screen, and release them online in partnership with independent theaters. The Naro uses our email newsletter subscriber list to market the films and shares in a percentage of the rental revenue.
Unfortunately, the speed of conversion to virtual commerce by various distributors was not a coordinated effort and resulted in a confusing hodgepodge of platforms and technical instructions to view the films. Tech support is available but since the Naro is not the provider and only the host of the virtual cinema program, instructions must come directly from the distributor for each film. The online viewership has been expectedly much smaller than the revenue generated by the theater boxoffice.
Nevertheless, this new business model has been encouraging enough to garner the interest of a number of film industry types to strategize a comprehensive and simplified home experience for viewers that would be distinct from the established streaming services and VOD rental platforms. This planned online art house platform would be marketed and managed by theaters and would complement their big screen cinema programming.
So when will the time arrive for the reopening of the Naro? Although theaters can now operate under Virginia’s phase 3 plan with 50% attendance and social distancing, we are in no hurry and will gather knowledge from the initial openings of other theaters. In the meantime, we have been actively planning for that day, and our dedicated managers, Theresa and Atlanta, have used our down time to remodel and restore the theater, the lobby, the bathrooms, and the concession stand. They have been toiling hard, and the theater has never looked better. We’re committed to the future of film exhibition in Norfolk.We have benefitted from the generosity of two fund raising campaigns in the past, and we recognize our role as a community-supported theater.
But the overarching issue that will allow theaters and restaurants to safely reopen and to stay open without the threat of additional closings, has yet to be adequately addressed by the government. Until there is easily available testing and contact tracing that provides accessible information about cluster outbreaks, our social behavior will be shaped by hearsay, rumors, and fear. The lack of a coordinated pandemic response at the federal level means that each state must implement its own program. The result is a very mixed bag.
I’ve experienced first-hand these concerns after dining at a recently-opened local high-end restaurant. A few days later, upon hearing that they had closed back down right before the 4th of July weekend for a thorough deep cleaning, I learned through friends that a staff member had tested positive, instigating the shutdown. I was not able to gain crucial information from multiple attempts to contact the business or the Va Beach Department of Health.
It is only natural for businesses during these fearful times to try to protect their reputations and guard against negative information from circulating. But transparency is essential in our attempts to stop the spread of the virus. Where can one gather accurate information if the state still won’t release data on COVID-19 outbreaks at such breeding hot spots as chicken processing plants? It’s been more than two months since Virginia announced its plan to employ some 1,300 contact tracers to help contain new COVID-19 cases but state officials still have not released the ongoing results of the multi-million dollar program. The Virginia-Pilot has submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request with the state to obtain the data showing the effectiveness of the program’s contact tracing efforts.
We have been left to try to figure out much of this on our own. Is the virus starting to really escalate in our locality or are things under control? Confronted with all the contradictory advice dispensed by politicians, health leaders, and the corporate media, it’s no wonder that so many people are reaching so many different conclusions. Should we wear a mask in outdoor public spaces or not? And how about wearing masks inside in restaurants and in theaters? The data received from the early openings in other states suggests that it’s not safe to be in close proximity with crowds not wearing masks. And without people following the safety guidelines, restaurants and pubs and theaters could easily turn into hot spots.
Small businesses are being placed in an impossible position, stuck between the financial imperative to reopen when federal unemployment insurance runs out at the end of July, and the prospect of placing their workers at risk if they return to the workplace prematurely. Their staff must take on the extra burden of maintaining best health practices and of regulating the appropriate behavior of their customers. Everyone must be very careful. Many businesses are teetering on the financial edge, and the possibility of being closed down again due to an outbreak would send them over the cliff.
At the end of the day, each business owner must make their own economic decision about when to reopen. Would they suffer greater losses from continuing to remain closed or by going ahead and reopening into a diminished business climate that has been restricted by the pandemic? There are some forecasts projecting that upwards of 40% of small businesses will either not reopen or have to call it quits over the next year. That’s millions of Americans thrown out of work and desperately in need of a new stimulus plan.
In Samuel Becket’s acclaimed play ‘Waiting For Godot’, the two protagonists converse and pontificate philosophically while they are waiting for the elusive Godot to show up. In the end, Godot never arrives. Let us hope that cinema fans awaiting the reopening of the movie business don’t experience a similar fate.
The thing I have missed most during the last year is going to the Naro. I hope that you will be able to open soon. You are my happy place.
I moved to Norfolk almost a year ago and was delighted to see that there was a theater of Naro’s caliber near my residence. And sad from the bad timing. Hopefully it reopens soon and I can enjoy it along with others I’ve been to like the Castro and New Beverly.
Why has my reply to K. Peterson’s brusque reply to me not been published? In it I enumerate ADA policy as per 18 US code 597 for reasonable accommodation. I am a long time supporter of the Naro, and know both Tench and his wife personally. Additionally, we donated a chair during the refurbishment, about ten years ago. I am not pleased with the way that K. Peterson attacked me, without knowing all the details. She refers to my “entourage.” My “entourage” consisted of myself and mu husband. Since when did an entourage consist of a married couple? Answer, please.
We went ahead and published your reply Kathleen – there was no intent not to do that, but we’re sometimes slow in seeing and approving comments. (We need to screen them for obvious reasons and there is a lot of spam.) Thank you for your support of the Naro!!
Thank you for your prompt response to my inquiry. I so look forward to the re-opening of the Naro and its screening of quality international films which always reward us with quality film making.
WRT the 9/26/20 post by Carter: Shame on you & your attendant movie going party for obliviously subjecting your fellow patrons @ Commodore & Regal Columbus theaters to your mask-free presence, and shame on those two theaters’ management teams for allowing your attendance in such a state, lacking an adequate barrier to prevent your unwittingly spreading your potentially covid19 laden aerosol exhalation among the hapless movie goers trapped unknowingly in the dark with you. Kindly exhibit enough civic minded consciousness to stay clear of indoor venues wherein your election to disregard adequately addressing the health and safety needs of those around you endangers not only the health and wellbeing of the public at large but also that of our heroic healthcare workers obliged to risk their lives every day treating covid19 positive patients. A face shield will protect wearers’ eyes and nothing more. That’s why healthcare providers wear their shields OVER both an NH-95 particulate filtering mask AND a non-filtering face mask which in-turn protects the NH-95 particulate filtering mask worn underneath. Kudos to the informed AMC Lynnhaven theater management team in not allowing you to choose, based solely upon your personal disability, whether and where you’d elect to endanger their employees and patrons who would’ve been subjected to your aerosol particulate discharge throughout their entire venue via HVAC air recirculation. They acted responsibly in following the dictates of science to minimize covid19 spread. Because American residents like you just don’t get it, including our elected “leaders”, our economy continues to vacillate between paralysis and limping along, while the economy of China, where they’ve wisely and responsibly instituted the widely known and simple scientific principles necessary to control the pandemic, has grown 3-4% net for the year. Hope isn’t a strategy. I urgently call upon all citizens of our republic to work their hardest going forward to ensure that our next crop of elected leaders carries out our expectations for their minimal respect for the wellbeing of our fellow Americans, a level of care greater than that which management at Commodore & Reagal Columbus and Ms. Carter’s entourage elected to demonstrate.
Replying to K. Peterson. Wow! Angry bird, so it seems. I guess my advice to you if you see me coming with a face shield on is, in the words of the inimitable Forrest Gump–“Run, Forrest, run!” since you seem to be paralyzed with fear at the very thought of my wearing a face shield. My brilliant doctor friend, well known in Norfolk, prefers face shields over those nasty masks. I have done a ton of research and for every ounce of science touting their efficacy, there is an equal amount of science disclaiming efficacy. Get rid of the healthcare provider analogy. It’s not working. Sterile hospital environments cannot be compared to everyday mundane environments, with the hospital controlled temperatures, and hyper sterilization protocols. Re, China, it would be my guess that China has had the vaccine for some time, and has kept that close to the chest. After all, China knowingly released the virus onto the world. CCP operates under the guise of secrecy and subversion, and the fact that their economy is better is probably because having mitigation efforts which they did not share with the world, just as they did not share the release of the virus as far back as September of 2019. of The masks did not prevent the spread of Swine or avian flu in China, now did they? I know many people who cannot wear masks, and I am one. You don’t know me, so where do you get off telling me how to live my life? Unbelievable. The governor and the framers of the Virginia mandate know that masks mandates must allow for exemptions. It is there in black and white for all to see. Read it! Do yourself a favor and brush up on ADA federal law,Title III which mandates that all commercial places of business must provide “reasonable accommodation” so that all people must have EQUAL access to goods and services. This is UScode 42, S2000a, and in Uscode 42 s2000B, MOTION PICTURE houses are specifically named.In US code 42, 2000-6a relief is provided for those discriminated against by the Attorney General who can file a civil action, by filing a complaint, requesting preventive relief, including application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order against the person or persons responsible for such pattern or practice, as he deems necessary to insure the full enjoyment of rights . Re the Commodore, they are acting responsibly. We walk in with masks (Hubby) and shields, and take them off to eat and drink because it is a restaurant. I can assure you I get it. AMC is Chinese owned and is acting as if Federal law does not apply to them. Have already talked to an attorney about this. All, I can say to you in your worship of the collective above the individual rights of free Americans is that if you are afraid, please stay home. Let all of us who are acting responsibly given some limitations, get about our business of supporting local business so that we can get back to normal. Simple mask wearing will not get us there . Far from it. Peace.
No need for all the jibber jabber.
Just wear the damn mask !
I would love to see the cat movie KEDI whenever you open again. Hope it is soon, thankyou and good luck to all.
Each business owner must make the right decision for themselves based on a multitude of factors specific to their industry. I think it far past time to throw off the fear that the government has been so successfully selling for way too long. When you decide to open up, Kathy and I will be there to support you and the Naro as always. We very much look forward to that first screening.
There was not a lack of response at the Federal level. The President allowed each state government to determine its own course of action in the process of COVID mitigation for each state. This is known as Federalism, and basically, as enumerated in the Constitution, it allows the states to determine their own process. The President wisely did this, knowing full well that mitigation efforts would not be the same in the state of, say, Utah, as they would be in New York state. COVID mitigation is not a one size fits all solution, but one based on population density, resource management, demographics, and economic status of each locality. We have been to Commodore, Regal Columbus, and an attempt to attend Chinese owned Lynnhaven AMC since all have re-opened. With the exception of Lynnhaven AMC who refused my entrance with both my face shield instead of their mask and my doctor’s note, prohibiting my wearing of a mask and a copy of the Virginia mandate re exemptions for mask wearing, both venues we successfully attended were sparsely populated , but were in compliance with social distancing, AMC theaters, owned by Beijing China Wanda Group, has lost 225 billion since the shut downs,and their draconian policies are not helping their business. A seating chart we saw after they sold us our tickets, but before they stopped me at the door with my face shield on indicated that we would have been the only ones in the large theater. It would be my hope that AMC theaters fold, and that American investors who pay attention to ADA law for “reasonable accommodation” as defined by Title III of the ADA (American with Disabilties Act) and the United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities would buy the bricks and mortar buildings and accommodate visitors again in a more welcoming and lawful way, as opposed to the non welcoming manner that current AMC management is fostering. We are boomers. We are not afraid. Careful, but not afraid. At our age we have neither nor the time nor the inclination to stay cowered in our homes until this is over. We look forward to visiting the Naro and its offering of more intellectually stimulating films from all over the world when it re-opens to an audience hungry for that stimulation. As metrics in Virginia at this writing are way down to, at or below 5%, we sincerely hope that is soon.