Columbus' Independent Movie Theaters Endure During Pandemic
The first quarter of 2020 was a high point of Chris Hamel’s decade-long run as president at the Gateway Film Center. The annual Academy Awards Gala party in early February was well attended. The South Korean film “Parasite” became the first foreign film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, extending an already popular run. ”‘Parasite’ was the highest-grossing international film we’d ever played at the Film Center, and one of our top-10 grossing films ever,” Hamel said. Foot traffic was exceeding expectations, with Hamel estimating that the theater was drawing 300,000-400,000 per year, a growing figure he traced to a “diverse programming model [that] had really started to connect with audiences.”
Then COVID-19 hit.
On March 17, the Governor’s office ordered all cinemas in the state to close indefinitely as part of an effort to reduce viral spread, at which point the Gateway entered a strange new chapter in its history, as it could only engage an audience virtually for the immediate future.
This was a common experience among numerous local independent cinemas. Both Studio 35 Cinema in Clintonville and Grandview Theater closed in March and resumed distanced, in-person screenings of new and second-run films in April. At the Drexel in Bexley, in-person screenings were abruptly halted in mid-March. While the Gateway did reopen for in-person screenings from Aug. 31 through Nov. 16, the Drexel has remained closed the entirety of the pandemic.
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