A UK academic recently contacted me and asked me to comment on the state of film-going in New Zealand, and what effects COVID-19 has had on this. I thought I might share my responses here, to a number of questions he asked. I might be wrong or I might be right but these are my best guesses...
Your comments are welcome too
Q. How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the movie-going experience?
I can only address the New Zealand situation, even though I keep an eye on developments elsewhere (eg the fate of AMC in the US) through newsfeeds from Indiewire and Variety.
Life in near-normal here, with NZ topping the list of 53 countries in respect of its response to COVID-19 (in a just-released report from Bloomberg). Nearly all cinemas have been open since a return to Level 2 on May 14 2020.
The overall box office is probably down (2019 was a record year) but there have been no reports of individual cinema closures or multiplex chains going under (the latter are largely overseas-owned). Cinemas received wage subsidies during the March/April Level 4 lockdown.
Q. Are venues struggling? If so, are there any solutions or changes?
Probably some are but it is more to do with the supply of new releases, rather than reluctance of patrons to gather in public places (we have had recent rugby test matches, with crowds of 60,000+). Given the dwindling supply of big franchise films, the multiplexes are probably struggling more, whilst art house /independent venues have more varied fare. So there are more smaller films in circulation and recent releases eg I saw Spike Lee’s film of David Byrne’s American Utopia at the local Lido yesterday.
Local (NZ) releases are also advantaged by the reduced competition for screens and some of recent titles are doing well eg Baby Done. But I have noticed a greater convergence of film titles between the multiplexes and independent cinemas—this too may be due to what is on offer, with fewer American blockbusters (Tenet wasn’t the solution!).
Some independents are being quite inventive, through themed programmes or drawing on the back catalogue. Film festivals such as Doc Edge and the NZIFF went online this year, but from what I hear, they were not a great success. But our local film society has continued to attract a good attendance to our weekly screenings.
Q. Will coronavirus change how we watch movies permanently or temporarily?
Not sure. We may have to wait and see. In NZ, people welcomed the reopening on cinemas after an extended period of home confinement—but possibly more the social mingling, than any particular film. This could be the case elsewhere, once a vaccine is available.
The opportunities via Netflix etc may have become humdrum for some, and they are actively seeking the joys of the big screen. But it is difficult to ignore the attractions of Netflix when they produce such great series as The Queen’s Gambit and the film industry offers such slop as Made in Italy!
Geoff Lealand was an Assoc Prof in Screen and Media Studies at the University of Waikato from 1992 to 2017. Now retired (not a word he favours), he writes social history, maintains this site, its Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as going to the cinema at least twice weekly.