EU citizens flock to open-air cinemas as lockdown eases
As Madrid’s spring evenings warm into summer nights, cinema-goers are parking up to watch Grease. In Munich, they are taking al fresco seats to follow the adventures of a communist kangaroo with a penchant for boozy chocolates, and in Prague they are witnessing a croaky vigilante work out some profound childhood traumas.
As Europe begins to stir from its Covid-19 lockdown, people bloated by two-month boxset binges have a new way to feed their entertainment needs as they emerge, blinking, into the daylight. Or, rather, the twilight.
Open-air cinemas in Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Greece have re-opened in recent days, albeit at reduced capacity and with the novel strictures of physical distancing.
The Autocine Madrid Race drive-in welcomed 200 customers back on Wednesday night with a screening of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s appropriately escapist and nostalgic paean to 1950s high school life.
In normal times, the outdoor cinema screens films for 1,500 people at a time, but its co-founder, Cristina Porta, isn’t complaining. “It’s been very, very good this week and we’ve have a very warm welcome back,” she said.
“Our customers were mad keen to get back and the demand has been huge. Drive-in cinemas are kind of made for life in the time of this virus.”
As the Spanish capital emerges further out of lockdown, the drive-in’s capacity will grow to 475 and then 850 people. Among the films slated for the coming weeks are Ghostbusters, the Goonies, Mamma Mia and Pulp Fiction.
“People are thrilled and are saying they want to spend the whole summer here,” said Porta. “If you’re in Madrid, it’s a bit like going to the beach.”
Open-air cinemas will begin reopening across Germany on Friday evening, and indoor cinemas are expected to get the go-ahead from July.
Operators say they welcome the chance to be among the first cultural institutions to be able to inject joy back into people’s lives.
They also recognise the responsibility they have. If successful, their navigation of hygiene and distancing regulations will serve as a blueprint for other cultural venues such as concert halls and performance venues.
“We do this with both a laughing and a crying eye,” said Christian Bräuer, the manager of the Yorck Kino cinema chain in Germany. “What we’re doing doesn’t make sense financially … but it’s important that cinema comes back into our lives.”
Revenue will be slashed because of the reduction in seating to ensure spectators maintain the required 1.5 metre distance. Cinemas such as the Friedrichshain Freiluftkino in north-east Berlin, which usually has room for 1,700 people, has been reduced to just 500 seats.
Cushions taped onto benches determine where people can sit, and with every other row kept empty, cinema goers will be able to enter and exit without coming close to others and are advised to buy tickets online to avoid queues.
Disinfectant sprays will be on hand and the wearing of face masks, obligatory in many other public places, will not be necessary once people are seated. They will to be worn, however, if people go to the toilet.
Munich’s Kino am Olympiasee is believed to be the first open-air cinema to reopen anywhere in Germany. It will spool up the projector on Friday night, showing The Kangaroo Chronicles, a film about a man who – spoiler alert – opens his door one day to find a kangaroo standing there.
Rather than the usual 2,000 places, there will for now be 500 – either deckchairs or love seats - and tickets are only available online. Out of solidarity to indoor cinemas that remain closed, €1 from each ticket will be donated to a fund to support their survival.
Open-air cinemas in Greece will reopen on 1 June, operating at 40% capacity and with the use of masks and hand sanitiser recommended for customers.
One of Prague’s most evocative sites, the ghostly half-abandoned Strahov stadium perched on a hill above the Czech capital’s tourist attractions, has become the centrepiece for the revival of drive-in cinemas in the city.
It has fallen into disrepair since the 1989 velvet revolution triggered the downfall of the communist regime in what was then Czechoslovakia and has since served as a football training ground and occasional concert venue.
While the Czech Republic’s indoor cinemas were still closed it staged the 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight, on 12 May after Prague city council, the venue’s owner, gave permission for a parking area to be turned into a makeshift movie theatre with capacity for 120 cars. The admission price is 350 koruna (£11.70) per car.
“The whole place has a post-apocalyptic vibe. It is definitely a unique experience,” said Jakub Dostál, the project organiser. “We wanted to find a way of getting people to start socialising again.”
Indoor cinemashave also reopened with the obligatory distancing requirements, but Dostal said response from cinema-goers had been overwhelmingly positive.
Demand, however, has fallen from the first week, when every night was a sellout, to an average of 70 cars a night. Dostal attributed the decline to a shortage in newly-distributed films caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is one of several drive-in cinemas to open in the city recent weeks. Among other venues are a theatre near Prague’s Vaclav Havel airport and another at a freight railway station in Žižkov.
One positive spin-off of the Strahov project has been a reported drop in crime in an area reputed for night-time drug dealing. Bruce Wayne would doubtless approve.