Columbia’s lone arthouse cinema is giving reopening another go.
Main Street’s Nickelodeon Theatre will resume hosting in-person screenings on May 27, starting with an anticipated major studio sequel (“A Quiet Place II”) and a well-liked 2020 indie film (the Toni Collette-led “Dream Horse”).
This is the first time that the Nick will host regular showings with a live audience since a month-long stint in December marked by screenings of holiday classics and an underperforming run from then-Oscar favorite “Promising Young Woman.” Before that brief reopening, the two-screen theater had been shuttered since March 2020, when COVID-19 shut down much of Columbia.
The Nick hosted two in-person screenings as part of its Filmmaker Focus Festival last weekend, its first since Jan. 5.
Anita Floyd — executive director of the Columbia Film Society, which oversees the Nick — said that decreasing coronavirus infection rates were a big factor in the decision to reopen next weekend. But equally important were surveys that showed increasing willingness to return to movie theaters, and a film industry that is finally able to release some titles that will make it worth the cinema’s effort.
“With the coasts kind of opening up, the distributors and producers and the powers that be in Hollywood are getting more willing to release films in theaters,” she explained to Free Times. “We get weekly reports on people's willingness to come to a theater, and it continues to track up. I think the last numbers I saw from the surveys is, you know, between 65 and 68% said they'd be willing to come to a theater. So things are just changed, finally, thank goodness.”
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given the green light to vaccinated people to gather indoors without masking or social distancing, the Nick is keeping its COVID-19 protocols in place. Screenings will be at 50 percent capacity, and masks and social distancing will be required.
“I would suggest that the CDC was a little bit confusing, because it felt like they were giving recommendations to individuals,” Floyd said. “So I'm vaccinated, so they're kind of giving me permission to drop the mask. We can't really tell who comes into the theater vaccinated or not. And just given the rates in Richland County ... at this point, we need to continue to observe some of these safety precautions.”
As to the balance of what the Nick will show for the next little bit, Floyd said that will depend on what’s available. Repertoire films have struggled across small theaters during the pandemic, she explained, pointing to competition from streaming services, which are replete with older films people can enjoy at home.
As to whether the Nick might lean more heavily on bigger films like “A Quiet Place II” to motivate viewers to return, she said she wasn’t sure that would be an emphasis, positing that showing the picture is no different than showing a new Quentin Tarantino film or other bigger movies that land in their wheelhouse.
“It's not totally outside of the realm for us to be doing some of these bigger films and they do support the work here,” Floyd reasoned. "So as a starting point, we're going to have to work with what's available. And hope that people come in so that we can kind of get the engine running to different things.”