How New York’s Small Cinemas Are Hanging On

Several of the city’s other art houses and smaller cinemas have a surprising safety net — large corporate owners that help buffer them from oblivion. The Paris Theater is now operated by Netflix. The Angelika Film Center & Cafe on Houston Street is part of a chain of theaters owned by Reading International, a publicly traded multinational company. The IFC Center’s parent company is AMC Networks. The Quad is owned by the billionaire real estate developer Charles S. Cohen.

Others, like Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives, operate as nonprofits, and have leaned heavily on members and donors for support. “We’re only still alive because of the largess of our audience members and our board,” said Cooper, of Film Forum.

After shuttering the theater in mid-March, Cooper sent staffers home with the concessions — “ice cream and cake, the whole shebang,” she said — and stuck a hand-printed sign to the front door saying they’d be back in a few weeks. They figured they would be open March 31. And then the end of July. And then August. They taped off theater seats at social distances and installed hand sanitizer and hospital-grade air filters. They held a springtime fund-raising drive that raised $100,000, and collected another $585,000 from the government’s payroll protection program, which for many months helped keep 24 full-timers employed. Cooper said the place is still hemorrhaging badly. The Forum’s monthly expenses are around a quarter of a million dollars. When it reopens, it probably will not offer concessions, out of safety concerns, which Cooper said usually bring in half a million dollars a year.

“So this whole thing is a financial debacle,” she said. “But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.”

On the upside, Cooper said Film Forum has a backlog of movies to screen, and that while she doesn’t want to minimize the toll of the coronavirus, reopening is overdue. “We think the audience is out there and that Cuomo, as smart he has been, we think he’s gone overboard,” she said, adding, “He seems to have forgotten we even exist.”

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo said that movie theaters will be allowed to reopen when the science, data and health experts deem it safe. “This cautious approach has so far served New Yorkers well,” the spokesman, Jack Sterne, said, “and everyone is working to stop a second wave.”

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