Should we go to the movies right now?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot in the past couple of days. Regular readers of this blog will know I go to the cinema once or twice a week to review new releases, and also show up on CTV to preview what’s new in cinemas. (I sometimes also review films now available on streaming services.)

But I also work at the CBC, and this week the coronavirus has been, and continues to be, the big story. The CBC has been keeping track of all the closures, delays, and government regulations aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Locally, the cinema I volunteer at, Carbon Arc, is on pause anyway for two weeks because of March break, but now the screening room it rents at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax is closed, so whether we get a chance to see the next screening on March 27 will depend on its reopening.

The province says gatherings of more than 150 people should be avoided. The museum screening room holds 72.

Other cinemas across North America are closing temporarily, such as the TIFF Lightbox and the Revue Cinemas in Toronto. Though the Revue is a small, rep cinema, they say they’ll be making sure staff are still compensated during the closure.

Some are staying open — the Alamo Drafthouse cinemas in the United States are instituting more regular and diligent cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and offering support for staff who may have to self-quarantine.

Our local multiplex, Cineplex, is staying open — for now. Given many of the big-budget features that bring in their biggest crowds are being postponed, including No Time To Die, A Quiet Place Part 2, and Mulan, this pandemic is already impacting their business.

I was trying to remember the last time I was in a screening room at Cineplex with at least 150 people. It might’ve been the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening night back in December, or maybe a January screening of Parasite. It’s rare to have that many people watching a movie at once at Park Lane, the cinema where you’ll most often find me.

I’ve seen three communications from Cineplex in the past 72 hours.

The first was on Thursday, a statement that detailed their approach to keeping staff and patrons safe — like the Alamo Drafthouse, it involves a diligent plan of increased cleanliness, and a plan to keep staff compensated who choose to self-isolate.

My experience of the staff at Cineplex is very positive: they’re unfailingly polite and cheerful, and usually teenagers or in their early 20s — though I’ve seen the middle-aged and elders working there, too.

Now might be a good time for Cineplex to be transparent about their cleaning procedures. How often are the seats and armrests in the cinemas cleaned with soap and hot water? Is it weekly? Monthly? Less frequently than that? Is that something the staff are asked to do, or does Cineplex employ professionals? Is the regular staff being asked to apply the new cleaning regulations?

The second communication from Cineplex I saw was on Friday, a Tweet that indicated they’ll be restricting capacity to a minimum of 50% at all theatre auditoriums in Canada “to allow for social distancing.”

The final message I received was today, an email encouraging me to watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at home via the Cineplex website.

The poster from Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion

I know the risk right now is quite low in our not-so-densely populated city, relatively speaking, and while I write this, Nova Scotia is the last province in the country without a confirmed case.

So, I guess my original question remains.

But maybe this isn’t the question I should be asking.

Maybe I should ask: What if I have Covid-19 and just don’t know it yet?

Maybe the real question is:

What can I do to limit the spread of this virus?

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.