Students and cinemas reflect on cautious movie industry reopening

The+Row+House+Cinema+in+Lawrenceville+is+opening+this+fall+for+in-house+showings.

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The Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville is opening this fall for in-house showings.

By Grace Hemcher, For The Pitt News

Heaping buckets of buttered popcorn and velvety curtains illuminated by aisle lights are the essence of nostalgia for any movie buff. After many theaters had to close their doors due to the pandemic, traditional screenings are beginning to see their much-anticipated revival. 

Small theaters, such as Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville, are opening this fall for in-house showings. You can expect to see silent and classic titles from some of the most iconic decades in movie-making history.

Kelsey Zehmisch, the marketing director for Row House Cinema, said the small theater occupies a specific niche because of the distinct character of its lesser-known films.  

“Because we are a small theater, we are all about that kind of movie magic of a theater,” Zehmisch said. “We do a lot of events, and if you’re familiar with us, our schedule is not new releases. It is everything from silent films to really weird art films.”

The theater is scheduled to fully reopen on Friday, after closing its doors for scheduled showings nearly a year and a half ago in March 2020. Zehmisch said they’re also offering drive-in screenings at The Strip District Terminal after a successful partnership with them last fall.

For $34.50 per car you can see back-to-back screenings every weekend starting in October, and those 21 and older can enjoy a large selection of beer from local breweries. Zehmisch said they’re screening spooky classics like Hocus Pocus, Night of the Living Dead, Beetlejuice and more. 

In addition to the drive-in, the theater found other new ways to keep business alive during the shutdown. Zehmisch said the theater also rented out its showroom to small parties and hosted members-only screenings for their film club members.

As more theaters in the area ease up on lockdown protocols and resume their showings, Pitt students are starting to return to see their favorite new releases.  

Max Bruce-Rudge, a senior film productions major, described his recent trip to Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill to see The Green Knight, the first movie he saw in theater since the onset of the pandemic. 

“This was the first time I had been back to the movies, but I wasn’t super nervous,” Bruce-Rudge said. “Just because I knew it was the Manor, and it was before people had moved back in and I went on a weekday, so I didn’t think there would be a ton of people there. My girlfriend and I were both masked up, and we knew that most of the other people would be too.” 

At the theater, Bruce-Rudge said he noticed fewer people than pre-pandemic. He said most people were still wearing masks when they were not eating or drinking, even though there was no mask requirement for fully vaccinated guests in the theater at the time.

Without a mask mandate, policies regarding masks and vaccination status vary depending on the theater. Zehmisch said Row House Cinema will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of entering the theater when it opens Friday. 

“We are small, so there’s not a whole lot of space to socially distance,” Zehmisch said. “The only exception would be kids under 12 can come in, but they have to wear masks the entire time.”  

Following the shutdown of theaters nationwide, renting and streaming movies — especially new releases — became a popular alternative to traditional theater viewing. Zehmisch said this is something on the theater staff’s minds.

“The truth is, pandemic or no pandemic, that is something we are always thinking about, people watching movies at home versus in the theater. But we really believe that some movies are just meant to be shown in a movie theater,” Zehmisch said. “The experience is different, it’s better, and it’s fun.” 

The giant projection screens and surround sound speakers may offer an elevated viewing experience, but for some students, the ongoing threat of the pandemic is enough to give that opportunity up. 

Dana Bernhard, a junior emergency medicine major, said renting new releases to watch with close friends at home has made her feel more comfortable during these uncertain times.

“I haven’t really felt comfortable going to the movie theater because of the pandemic and all, so my roommate and I have been renting movies on Xfinity or using Netflix which has honestly been a lot of fun,” Bernhard said. “They have most new movies for rent, so it’s not like we are missing out on much.”

While the pandemic limited choices for entertainment, post-shutdown life offers a variety of viewing options. Zehmisch said that even if people will be watching some films at home, the Row House staff is excited to open up the cinema.  

“We are very excited to reopen. We all joke that we’re learning how to run a movie theater again,” said Zehmisch. “It’s weird coming out of it, but we’re excited. We have a great lineup, and we have a busy fall, so we hope some Pitt students come down.”

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