Manitoba movie theatres can start up their projectors this weekend. But just because cinemas can reopen amid eased COVID-19 pandemic restrictions doesn’t mean they will.

Manitoba movie theatres can start up their projectors this weekend. But just because cinemas can reopen amid eased COVID-19 pandemic restrictions doesn’t mean they will.

The province has stipulated only those who have been fully vaccinated for two weeks may attend a cinema, at up to 50 per cent capacity. That means if you qualify, you may be able to catch Black Widow or F9 at Winnipeg’s Grant Park Cinemas or Landmark Cinemas 9 in Brandon.

But if you’re waiting to see a movie at Landmark Cinema 5 in Winkler, where the vaccination rate is only 23.7 per cent (compared to the larger Manitoba rate of 59 per cent), you’re out of luck.

That theatre will not be reopening for now, said Landmark Cinemas Canada chief executive officer Bill Walker.

"I’m not passing judgement, right or wrong, but I am saying our business can’t operate on that," Walker told the Free Press in a phone interview Wednesday. "That’s not going to be justifiable for us to open the doors there, with that limited capacity combined with a limited proportion of the population."

The news Manitoba cinemas could reopen to fully vaccinated patrons caught exhibitors by surprise. Walker said the Calgary-based company that operates 45 theatres in Canada had been in talks with the province on Monday.

"It was never signalled to us that it would be for only fully vaccinated Manitobans, which is half the population right now," Walker said. "We’ve had to turn on a dime and figure out how to get open on Saturday," adding, however, it’s better to be partially open than not at all.

"We’ll take that as encouraging. That’s a great start," he said.

"But we felt like our businesses as is being held back, despite no specific health concern... It feels like we’re being used as a carrot as an incentive to get people vaccinated, but I’m not really sure about the government choosing businesses to create incentives."

Manitoba appears to be going it alone with its vaccination requirement. Theatres in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and — as of Friday — Ontario will be open at either half or full capacities, but no other province is demanding patrons be fully vaccinated, Walker said.

While the patrons of the Manitoba cinemas may be fully vaccinated, there is no guarantee the employees will be.

"It’s another complexity that we can’t mandate vaccinations for our staff," Walker said. "So ironically, our guests may be fully vaccinated but there’s really nothing we can do from a staff perspective to enforce that.

"We can encourage, promote and inform but there’s no ability to demand it."

Some local Cineplex Inc. multiplexes will likely be opening Saturday, but the company would not comment Wednesday.

The downtown art house Cinematheque will be holding off until Aug. 13 for its "grand reopening," said Winnipeg Film Group interim director David Knipe.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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