Cinema in the Time of a Pandemic: What to Expect When You Watch a Movie

No snacking on popcorn for now.

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PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino

(SPOT.ph) In mid-October, the Inter-Agency Task Force announced that indoor cinemas would be allowed to reopen in Metro Manila. Technically, the same directive was made in March, but it was only in recent weeks that establishments across the capital followed suit with several theaters officially screening movies starting November 10. Yet despite widespread longing for the pre-pandemic cinematic experience, folks seem to have mixed feelings about the reopening of movie theaters. Now that we’ve all been mostly stuck at home for nearly two years, it’s no surprise many people are a little uncertain about sitting in a dark room filled with strangers while Metro Manila has yet to fully return to normal. But still, we know many of you are curious and maybe even considering catching an upcoming blockbuster on the big screen. So if you’re wondering what it’s like to watch a movie in the so-called new normal, we run you through the experience below.

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Also read:
Time for an Epic Movie Night: You Can Book an Entire Cinema for as Low as P5,200
LIST: The Biggest Movies Coming Soon to Metro Manila Cinemas
10 Pre-Pandesal Cinema Experiences We’ll Have to Say Goodbye to

Here’s what it's like to watch a movie in an indoor cinema in the middle of a pandemic:

The Venue

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Cinema '76 is located at Anonas LRT City Center along Aurora Boulevard.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino
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We got a chance to watch a movie at the independent microcinema located in Quezon City known as Cinema '76. Now, we know, this isn’t exactly the type of movie theater you’d find in malls littered across the Metro, but despite the smaller size, the protocols are pretty much the same. Plus, since the microcinema is not located in a huge mall, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding crowds. It’s also right by an LRT Station, so you’ll have no problem visiting the spot if you’re a regular commuter.

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With eight rows made up of couch-style seating, Cinema '76 is smaller than your average movie theater.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino
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Each row is divided into sections to facilitate physical distancing 
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino

Cinema '76’s theater has eight rows composed of long couches unlike most theaters’ armchair-style seating. The cinema has three doors, so moviegoers can avoid getting crowded into one entrance and go straight to their seats without having to snake through the various walkways. Though each row is basically one long sofa, they’ve got ribbons dividing the row into sections in order to maintain social distancing protocols. Plus, the lack of armrests will prevent unnecessary touching of facilities while inside the theater.

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The Safety Protocols

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Moviegoers are required to get their temperatures taken, scan their KyusiPass, and present a vaccination card.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino

Upon entry, moviegoers will be required to scan their KyusiPass, the LGU’s official contact tracing system. If you don’t have one, you can get it through the QR code posted by the entrance. You’ll also get your body temperature taken—customers with temperatures of 37.7 degrees celsius or above will not be allowed to enter. Presentation of vaccination cards is also required.

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Folks must sit at least one seat apart.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino

Once you enter, you’ll find a ticket booth right by the door but customers are encouraged to purchase tickets online in order to reserve a spot in one of their various screening slots (as each has a limited capacity) and to facilitate cashless transactions for added safety. There’s normally a snack bar right by the ticket booth, but for now, food and drinks are not allowed inside the cinema. And yes, it should go without saying, but wearing a face mask is required at all times.

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The Viewing Experience

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The cinema has three entry points to avoid crowding in one. 
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino

For this screening, we sat in the backmost row on the side furthest from the entrance, partially to observe the flow of the moviegoers, but also to stay as far away from other people as possible. Thanks to capacity limits, you should have no problem keeping your distance from the other folks in the room.

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Though the screen in Cinema '76 is a little smaller than the kind you’d find in most malls, we found that watching the movie was comfortable even from the back. After all, you’ve been streaming films on your laptop (maybe even your phone) since March 2020, your eyes should be well adjusted enough. The theater also has surround-sound, so you’ll still get that immersive cinematic experience despite being in a small space.

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You'll enjoy the viewing experience whether you're sitting up front or all the way at the back.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino
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Before the flick actually starts, you’ll still go through those pre-movie rituals that all cinemas have. We stood up to sing the national anthem—a feature of cinema-going that we honestly almost forgot about—and then sat back down to watch trailers of upcoming films. As any true cinephile would know, watching the previews is all part of the experience, so you’ll want to make sure you’re there on time. There’s at least a 30-minute window between screenings to allow for disinfection and to prevent crowding, so no need to come too early as you wouldn’t want to catch the previous group anyway. Expect the room to be just as dark and chilly as a cinema in the pre-COVID era—another reason it’s important to keep your mask on and maintain physical distancing at all times as cinemas don’t exactly allow for much ventilation.

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During the movie, we found no issues with having to keep our masks on for the entire duration of the film, which in this case, ran for over two hours. Though the idea of watching a film on the big screen with a mask on and without the comfort of popcorn or drinks may seem less-than-ideal to some, for our part, we had no issues with the protocols and enjoyed the movie just the same.

Even if you watch with friends, be ready for a mostly solitary viewing experience as folks in the theater will have to be at least one seat apart. So if you’re the type who likes to whisper side comments to your buddies while watching, then you’ll have to let that habit go—you were probably annoying the other moviegoers anyway.

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Watching movies in the middle of a pandemic is more of a solitary experience than it is a social one.
PHOTO BY Ashley Martelino
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Now, a quick but important thing to keep in mind when watching the movie: You need to pay attention. Two years of only watching films on streaming services has likely altered your attention span. Even with a fast-paced blockbuster playing on screen, we found that it was easy for those at-home streaming habits to kick in. That is to say, we would sometimes dart our eyes around the room, get the urge to check our phones, lose focus of the subtitles, and even wish to rewind the movie to understand certain moments better. We’re not saying this is going to happen to everyone, but if you’re a hardcore binge-watcher, you may find that watching films the old-fashioned way will require some readjustment. And hey, that’s okay! It’s not your fault you haven’t been able to do so in almost two years.

That being said, we’d say come early so you can settle into your seat and get into the right mindset for truly enjoying a film. Put your phone on silent or turn it off (as you always should in a cinema), make sure you’ve eaten and gone to the restroom beforehand, and get ready to train your eyes onto the screen. After all, in this day and age, watching a movie in the cinema has become less a casual activity and more of a special occasion. So make the most of it while you’re there.

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All in all, going to the cinema amid the pandemic is (obviously) a lot harder than it used to be. Gone are the days—at least for now—when you could impulsively decide to watch a film on the big screen. And unfortunately, a lot of the little things that make watching movies so fun—bonding with friends, snacking on popcorn, and so on—are also gone for the time being. But if your main objective is just to enjoy a movie exactly as it’s supposed to be enjoyed—in a quiet dark room, in front of a huge screen, with immersive sound effects all around you—then we’d say the experience is well worth the extra preparation, at least once in a while.

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