Cinema director and programmer Walter Francisco is quick to point out that these are sell-outs in today’s context of much reduced capacity and social distancing – around 56 people rather than the usual 115 people maximum.
But even so, it still represents a great comeback – and is hugely encouraging for the weeks ahead, whatever other challenges still lie in the future.
After 209 days, the Chichester Cinema at New Park finally reopened its doors on Friday, October 16 – with the ceremony performed by Mayor of Chichester Richard Plowman who wittily pondered the full cinema implication of the rule of six. At least in terms of film titles.
“The Magnificent Seven should be now remade as the Magnificent Six”, Richard suggested, “and of course the Seven Samurai should also be reduced to six. The Marilyn Monroe film the Seven-Year Itch will be now be the Six-Year Itch.
“Seven Brides For Seven Brothers will now be reduced to Six Brides, depending on whether the brothers are in the same household in which case it could be either six or seven. In any case only 15 can attend the wedding.”
Inevitably, The Dirty Dozen will have to be remade – and retitled The Dirty Half Dozen.
Walter said he was delighted with the way things went on reopening day: “It was very exciting and it was also a bit of a relief as well, and it was so good to have the Mayor there.
“Misbehaviour was the first film back. It was one of those scheduled for us for early April and so we didn’t get to show it. We thought it would be a great film to come back to. We have got several like that. We have also got Military Wives coming up.”
Strong bookings continue all week: “And that tells me that there is going to be confidence as well as excitement coming back, just a desire to get back and to spend time with like-minded people. I had a really nice chat with someone in the front row on Sunday – and it was the third time they had been back already.”
Walter concedes that face masks will always make things seem a little strange, but all the signs are that the cinema-going habit hasn’t been broken.
Walter has got the first four-week season of films worked out – and is also pretty much ready with the second six-week season of films which will take the venue through until Christmas.
With so many big studio releases being postponed and rescheduled, Walter admits, though, that inevitably programming remains a concern. There simply aren’t as many films coming through that he looks at and instantly thinks ‘That’s a seven-day’ or ‘That’s a 14-dayer.’
As the cinema moves to three slots a day, he will have 21 slots a week to fill – and doesn’t want to have to resort to nine different films a week: “Really I want to be showing four or five different films a week. But the bigger films just aren’t coming through.”
He just needs people to keep coming: “We need 40 people to break even, but we are prepared to operate at a small loss if we have to. We are just wanting to get things going. If we don’t open, we will be losing a lot more. It is our aim to keep our staff… so 40 people per screening is our target, and that should be possible when you think that this time last year we would be getting 80 or 90 people or sell-outs.