By Miriam Raftery
November 12, 2020 (Washington D.C.) -- The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) this week called for Congress and the Trump administration to act now to save local movie theaters devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic by passing relief legislation. According to a press release issued by the organization, 96% of movie theaters have reported over 70% in losses in 2020.
“American movie theaters need help now,” said John Fithian, NATO President & CEO. “Soon, a vaccine will allow our industry to return to normal, but without bipartisan action now in the lame duck session of Congress, hundreds of movie theaters will not make it. Local communities across the nation are and will be permanently damaged. This Congress and Administration still have a job to do.”
Ironically, the global shutdowns of theaters over coronavirus fears may not be founded on facts. Since the start of the pandemic, over 100 million visits to movie theaters have been made – yet not a single COVID-19 outbreak has been traced to any theatre worldwide, according to a study by Celluloid Junkie, a publication tracking the cinema industry. Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, only a handful of cases in theatre employees or patrons have been documented globally and none of those resulted in spread to anyone else at a theater, the publication reports.
Despite this evidence, health officials in California and many other places have ordered theaters shuttered due to the perceived higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 in indoor environments where people congregate for two hours or more. Many outbreaks have been traced to venues such as churches, but thus far seemingly not theaters, which have taken many precautions to protect guests including reduced capacity, requiring masks and social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and air filtering.
Even in places where movie theaters can reopen, low capacity mandates and a shortage of new blockbuster films means theaters cannot draw the necessary audiences to make them operationally viable.
Here in San Diego County, indoor movie theaters have been ordered to shut down again starting Saturday, after months of closure earlier in the year.
Movie theaters provide both entertainment and jobs, as economic drivers. Cinemas employ over 153,000 individuals nationwide and support and boost millions more jobs in surrounding retail, the cinema supply chain, and motion picture production and distribution.
Without industry-specific assistance, movie theaters simply will not survive the economic impact of the pandemic, NATO’s press release states.
The organization is asking Congress to save cinemas by including $15 billion for grants for independent venues in a COVID-19 relief package. The “Save Our Stages” proposal aims to provide the bridge that theaters need to see them into next year, when the industry has a chance at recovery.
Theater owners also called for continued aid to furloughed workers.
HOW YOU CAN HELP SAVE MOVIE THEATERS
The public can help. Theater owners are asking movie lovers everywhere to contact their Senators and Representatives to urge immediate action. A video with theater owners explaining their plight and urging immediate action is here: https://youtu.be/y7XJ3UZ5gZI.
A sample letter and automatic contacts for individual members of Congress is available at https://saveyourcinema.com/#takeaction.
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
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