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With Drive-Ins and Pajama Parties, Going To The Movies Is Different Now

"Alone in a Movie Theater" by Studio Sarah Lou is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Theaters are trying novel approaches with seating only about 45% of capacity, with reserved seat ticketing.

Date nights are not the same these days, and a full summer with no blockbuster movies or theaters to cool off in was a big change for Hawai'i. Movie theaters here are allowed to be open now, but COVID-19 restrictions across the industry are having an impact. Movie theaters and film festivals are having to pivot, as the big studios contemplate what to do with their blockbusters.

Hawai'i ‘s major theater chain has been in a tough position since closing its doors due to the pandemic in March. Consolidated Theaters could sanitize and prepare for all the COVID restrictions, but that's not the only problem now, according to Marketing Manager Kyler Kokubun.

"Obviously with no product, this year has been hard for us," Kokubun said. 


When theaters closed across the nation, important studio releases were pushed back. In an experiment, Universal released "Trolls" in a streaming format, but attempts like this have shown nothing like the returns expected from a national theatrical release.


"Studios have opted to just hold off and push back their releases rather than go that video on demand only route."


That's good news for theaters, long term. Meanwhile, theaters have been doing unconventional programming to entice audiences, like pajama parties on weekend mornings for kids. Consolidated is screening curated contemporary films in their Pacific Islander Showcase.


Kokubun says Consolidated has maintained about half of their staff.  Four theaters on O'ahu and one on Maui are open. They serve about 3,000 movie goers a day, altogether. Kokubun says in the past, they have done that many an hour.


This year is the 40th anniversary year for the Hawai'i International Film Festival, or HIFF.  


"Ending 2019, we had such a good year, I was so excited to set the stage for the future of HIFF in a new and exciting way," says HIFF Executive Director, Beckie Stochetti.


"Now to find myself in a place where we're just trying to get by again, is heartbreaking." 


Stocchetti says HIFF struggled as funders reacted to the pandemic.


"Because of the huge loss of revenue when tourism fell out, they didn't have it," says Stocchetti. And these are all contracts that have already been signed. We lost a lot of money because Hawai'i Tourism Authority pulled all of their funding for all the arts and nonprofits they were working with. We weren't able to do our Spring Showcase so we lost all of our earned revenue."


Disruption in the tourist sector hits HIFF's Fall Festival hard because they normally bring in a hundred guests, celebrities, filmmakers, industry executives, and press from around the world. Stocchetti says a number of tourists make a practice of coming in November for this festival of films from Asia and the Pacific.


"We always knew how important the in-person events are, to the industry as whole," Stocchetti continues. "That's where you have your award shows, it's where you're able to meet people and have that one-on-one connection for growing networks, launching careers, that sort of thing. That's a huge loss to the industry, it's a huge loss to creatives, and it's huge loss to every festival that's had to pivot so much this year, including HIFF."


HIFF is showing 200 films in its Fall Festival, many of them online.  It is offering drive-in movies at Ala Moana Center, Windward Mall, and the Varsity building through November as well.


Selected films are being screened at Consolidated Theaters this year, another COVID partnership. HIFF's usual screening partner, Regal Cinemas, has closed its doors until next April, so Consolidated will be showing HIFF films now through Nov. 29.


The next big budget release, Wonder Woman 1984, is currently scheduled to open Christmas Day, traditionally Consolidated's busiest day of the year. According to Kokubun, it is the only major release on the calendar so far.



Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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