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Coronavirus

Yellowknife movie theatre’s future ‘is dismal’ under restrictions


Yellowknife’s lone movie theatre “can’t survive” unless the Covid-19 restrictions under which it must operate are eased, the cinema’s general manager says.

The Capitol Theatre is currently allowed to half-fill each of its auditoriums as long as anyone attending is fully vaccinated and their proof of vaccination is inspected when they enter.

However, a week after the theatre reopened, manager Chris Wood says the arrangement is “not working out.”

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He says physical distancing rules mean even with proof of vaccination and a theoretical 50-percent capacity, the theatre is struggling.

“I can’t survive on what I’m allowed to do right now. I’m allowed 50-percent attendance for each of the auditoriums but we’re getting maybe 25 percent because, when you rope off a section of five seats and two people sit in them, you have three you can’t sell,” said Wood.

Ideally, he added, the theatre would screen movies twice nightly to recover more of its costs – but restrictions prevent that.

“I have to check everybody’s vaccine. It takes a long time to get an entire show in. It takes almost half an hour to get a show in and I have to keep spacing the shows out to make sure there are not too many people in the building at a given time,” Wood said on Friday.

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“With all the government programs that are ending – that were shoring up our rent and our wages – I’m saying it looks very dismal. We’re heading into our busiest season, Christmas, and we’re already behind on the movies that we’re playing. We have all sorts of product in the pipeline. If we’re not able to get more people in, it’s bad.

“Why are we now back to basically square one again, and actually worse, now we have a vaccine? It doesn’t make much sense to me.”

The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, has long championed vaccination as a route to eased restrictions but has also expressed concern about exposure to Covid-19 at close quarters, even among the fully vaccinated.

Earlier this week, Dr Kandola amended isolation rules in households where someone has Covid-19 as she believes prolonged exposure near a person with the virus is enough to sometimes undermine the protection vaccination affords.

But Wood says Yellowknife’s theatre can only sustain itself when many people are allowed to attend the same movie at the same time.

On Friday, he warned Yellowknife’s cinema could go the way of Whitehorse’s two movie theatres. Those theatres shut down at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, have yet to reopen, and were each recently sold.

He plans to ask the chief public health officer in the next week if there is any leeway to increase the theatre’s capacity. The NWT government has only just stated the current restrictions are expected to remain in place throughout the winter ahead.

“I’m not saying it’s going to happen,” he said of possible closure. “Things may come to some semblance of normalcy. But we haven’t been in the black for a year and a half.

“This last round [of restrictions] hurt the theatre more than anybody else, and I don’t have any other business I can pivot to in the meantime. I rely on large groups of people coming in and watching a movie, but there doesn’t seem to be any allowance for that in the rules up here.

“It’s not working out.”

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