Chichester Cinema at New Park gets ready for reopening

Caution will be the name of the game as Chichester Cinema at New Park opens its doors for the first time this year on Friday, May 21.

Walter Francisco, cinema director and programmer
Walter Francisco, cinema director and programmer

Walter Francisco cinema director and programmer, is going to be taking it very carefully as the cinema welcomes people back in for its third reopening in the past year.

“I am not as confident as I was when we reopened in October. I thought that we were there to stay back then. The numbers (of infections) had gone down so well over the summer last year. I thought that the reopening was for good.

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“We had got through the summer and it was all looking so hopeful.”

Walter is bearing exactly that experience in mind as he eyes up May 21.

“I am not going to be doing full programming like I did before, full eight or nine-week programmes. I am just not confident what is going to happen in the eighth or ninth week.

“What we are doing now is a three-week programme that will take us from May 21 through to June 10, and the next one after that will be tricky because it will overlap June 21 when the government has implied that we might lose social distancing. We might still have to wear masks in the auditorium, but social distancing might go, but we just don’t know.”

Currently there is strict Covid cleaning between screenings which effectively limits the number of possible daily screenings to three – which puts the cinema very much in break-even territory. If the cleaning requirements were relaxed, then the cinema would be able to go up to four screenings a day which would be much better territory financially.

Clearly the biggest difference will be whether social distancing is relaxed on June 21.

“With social distancing gone, we can go back to capacity which is 115 rather than 50 seats.”

Again a reason why Walter hasn’t programmed more than three weeks at the moment.

“We just don’t know what might happen. If the Indian variant kicked off, then the government might be a bit more reticent.

“We would be risking too much if we programmed beyond three weeks at the moment.”

Also in the mix is the fact that the distributors are also being cautious at the moment: “If you were distributing a film like The Father which is due to come out before June 21 or around then, would you rather have fewer screenings and social distancing or no social distancing and lots of screenings. Obviously the latter. It is all a big jigsaw puzzle at the moment, which is half the fun!”

One thing is clear, though: Walter will go back to full capacity as soon as he can – though he is contemplating a select number of socially-distanced screenings a week, which will be much easier to bear if he is back to full capacity the rest of the time.

“If you have got an auditorium which seats 500 and you are at half capacity, then that is 250 and that is a big number. But if you have got a capacity of 115, then half capacity is very difficult to work with.”

As for people’s willingness to come back, Walter has got no doubts: “We had the experience with the October reopening. I was thinking last May that people would come back and then as time went by, I got less sure, but then when we were able to reopen, we got heaps of people.

“It really surprised me. People were really missing cinema. And also good films were out which helped.

“With the backlog of films, we were able to cherry pick what we showed.”

For the three weeks after this latest reopening, inevitably lots of the films will be films that have already been released on streaming services.

“That’s just the way it is. The ones that are being released theatrically will maybe be end of May, early June.”