It's hard to believe, but Irish cinemas have been closed for over three months now.
Before lockdown began, a number of Irish cinemas introduced social distancing measures in order to remain open and in line with WHO guidelines on COVID-19. Now, as cinemas prepare to reopen on June 29th, what can cinemagoers expect when they return to the local multiplex?
The first thing to note is that not all cinemas will be opening on June 29th.
The Lighthouse Cinema and the Irish Film Institute have both indicated that they were working to July 20th as a return date, and will reopen on or before that date. Omniplex Cinemas are planning a phased re-opening of their cinemas in Cork, Rathmines, Limerick, Galway, Wexford, Arklow, and the new D'Luxx Cinema in Drogheda on July 3rd. Odeon Cinemas, meanwhile, will re-open on July 13th across Ireland.
So far, we know that Movies @ Cinemas will re-open on June 29th, as will Stella Cinemas in Rathmines and Rathgar. IMC Cinemas, including the Savoy on O'Connell Street in Dublin, have not given any indication as to whether they'll open on the 29th.
All retail outlets, be it coffee shops, supermarkets, whatever, have queue markers in place and cinemas will be no different. However, all cinemas are now prioritising online ticket sales and are urging patrons to book beforehand. All have increased cleaning on touchscreen stations and are increasing cleaning rotas, as well as limiting the number of people in the foyer to 50 people only.
When it comes to buying popcorn or a drink, it's pretty much the same as before - with one or two changes. Mark Anderson at Omniplex told us that buying popcorn and a drink is the same as before, however, the Pick 'N Mix stations will be closed until further notice. Stella Cinemas, meanwhile, are encouraging patrons to pre-order their food with their tickets to avoid queues, with the food arriving at your seat when you arrive.
When it comes to what's on offer, it's mainly going to be classics and some of the movies that missed their theatrical window. Omniplex Cinemas told us they plan on screening 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Stella Cinema is screening 'Trolls World Tour' as their first movie back. Movies @ Cinemas have a programme of classics that include 'Back To The Future', 'The Dark Knight Rises' and so on.
Smaller movies will get their chance before blockbuster season returns. Russell Crowe's psychological thriller 'Unhinged' will screen from July 17th, throwback-horror 'Black Water: Abyss' screens from July 10th, and 'Stage Mother' lands in cinemas from July 31st. Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet', meanwhile, will screen from July 31st.
When you get into the screen itself, however, things get a little different.
A number of cinemas have varying rules and measures in place to handle social distancing. Of the cinema owners who got in contact after we put the call out, none of them said they would make mask-wearing mandatory in their screens, but added that it's up to patrons if they want to wear one and they're more than welcome to do so. However, when it came to seat separation, all of them said that the two-metre social distancing rules would be strictly enforced.
Omniplex and Odeon both said that their ticketing systems will ensure that there is at least one seat empty in front, behind, and either side of you. You will, of course, be able to book tickets together, so if you're going on a date or if you're with family, you can sit together as normal. Stella Cinema have reduced their screening capacity to 50 people and spread out seats across the cinema to ensure compliance with government guidelines. Likewise, all cinemas who got back to us told that they're limiting each screening to 50 people, and will likely increase to 100 people from July 20th.
After that, it's the same as ever. Sit back, relax, enjoy the movie, turn your phone off or put it on silent, and take your rubbish out with you when you're done.