Movie theatres disappointed after being left out of Manitoba’s reopening plan

WINNIPEG — Manitoba will begin its first phase of reopening on Saturday, but one type of business that will not be opening its doors is movie theatres — a decision that’s not sitting well with cinema operators.

Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas, said it is fair to say he’s disappointed and frustrated with how movie theatres are being categorized within the province.

“That continues to be our biggest point of contention,” he said.

Walker said this frustration stems from the fact that other businesses, such as gyms, stores and restaurants, are being permitted to reopen, but not movie theatres where people “sit physically distanced, facing one direction, sanitizing every surface between shows.”

Walker said to categorize movie theatres as being unsafe to open does not ring true with what he’s experienced.

“The further aggravation to it is we’ve been trying to reach out to the province to try to have a discussion to understand exactly how they think about this issue, and really they’re just not engaging and not responding to our calls,” he said.

Walker said there is no evidence to show that theatres are a source of COVID-19 transmission.

“It continues to baffle us why the province won’t at least talk to us to understand the data and the experiences we have and share their concerns with us so we can have a proper conversation about it,” he said.

“Instead, it feels like in an effort to restrict the opening into some sort of symbolic phasing. Theatres are put into a category that makes it seem like it presents some nefarious risk, when the matter of fact is restaurants have been linked to transmission, gyms have been linked to transmission, indoor retail has been linked to transmission, all of which are permitted to open.”

Walker said if movie theatres are given the green light to reopen, they would need a couple of weeks to recall and retrain the staff before doors could open to the public.

“We’ve sent our operating plans, we’ve sent our safety plans, we’ve articulated this is how we operate our business,” he said.

“If there’s something that the province is unhappy with, if there’s a risk that the province still sees, again, we just want to be included in the discussion, so at least we can feel as though we’re understanding each other.”

Walker said it all comes down to fairness.

“We believe one of the reasons theatres continue to be held back and not open is because of the size of our business,” he said.

“There are thousands of restaurant owners, and entrepreneurs, and personal care service operators, that when you close those services the volume is immense, and justifiably so.”

Walker noted the movie theatre business is largely consolidated, and the province can rely on the companies to adhere to proper safety protocols.

“You can rely on these bigger companies, particularly in Winnipeg, saying we’re going to execute whatever measures we commit to really, really well,” Walker said.

He added Landmark wants to bring back its management team and staff members and, “give people a piece of escape.”

“That’s the other point of advocacy I’ve had through this is that we’re also not flipping a switch back to normal for people, and that the return to public life will take time,” Walker said. “While all these other venues are being open, from our experience and from being in our theatres, I fundamentally believe one of the first things that should open is theatres.”

– With files from CTV’s Simon Stones.

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