Emagine Willow Creek reopens June 19 with a Juneteenth Film Festival that benefits the United Negro College Fund. /Aaron Lavinsky
Shuttered movie theaters are gradually, and quietly, reopening.
Closed since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters began opening their doors last weekend. Emagine Theatres tested the waters at venues in Monticello and Eagan and reopens all its outlets this weekend. Its Willow Creek multiplex, in Plymouth, has announced a Juneteenth Film Festival, starting June 19, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
St. Anthony Main Theatres, which postponed plans to open June 5, now open June 19. Mann Theatres, whose locations include Champlin and St. Paul, will reopen June 26. Marcus Theatres, with locations including Oakdale and Shakopee, has switched the message from "closed" to "opening day coming soon" on its website. AMC theaters have said they'll return in July.
All of the chains are reassuring patrons about safety. Most venues will only be open at reduced capacity. All have announced increased cleaning/disinfecting. Most say hand sanitizer will be available and employees will wear masks and gloves. Many have announced other changes, including the elimination of refills on beverages and popcorn at Mann locations.
The next question for theaters is: What will be shown? New titles have been limited since March, with a few "opening" via streaming services and many postponed, The first new title with a big star to hit theaters may be "Unhinged," with Russell Crowe, on July 10. The live-acton "Mulan" is planned for July 24 and Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" is targeted for July 31.
While St. Anthony Main is promising "some of our favorite films of all time" on its site, Willow Creek is filling the new release gap with titles that salute black artists or "present compelling moral stories and educate on racism and black history." Titles range from vintage dramas such as "Imitation of Life" and a trio of Sidney Poitier films to Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winning "If Beale Street Could Talk."
"I was seeing what was going on and felt: What could I do? I can’t pretend to understand the pain and feelings that people have so I thought, instead of me trying to figure it out, maybe we have a festival with voices that are out there that reflect those feelings," said Jon Goldstein, a partner in the Michigan-based Emagine.
Willow Creek was chosen because of its proximity to Minneapolis, where nationwide protests began in the wake of George Floyd's death. All of the proceeds of the Juneteenth festival will benefit the United Negro College Fund.
Goldstein said things went well enough last weekend in Eagan and Monticello to take many workers off furlough and open all of Emagine's local theaters, featuring vintage and pre-COVID titles (the first "Lord of the Rings" from Peter Jackson was especially popular).
"We don't have new titles yet, so it wasn't a blockbuster weekend," Goldstein said. "But the people who were coming were ready to get back out again. We weren’t getting people who were scared to leave the house so there was a certain level of comfort."
Goldstein said he expects the larger chains to reopen soon and that the next couple weeks will be a chance for theaters to show studios that, when they begin rolling out summer blockbusters, theaters -- and moviegoers -- will be ready for them.