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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Relaxed COVID restrictions could have come sooner for some

The ACT’s COVID restrictions easing to allow 200-person indoor and outdoor gatherings and a new one person per two square metre rule outdoors from 9am today have received a mixed response from the cinema and theatre sectors.

Under the slightly eased restrictions cinema complexes will be allowed to seat ticketed patrons up to 50% of capacity up to 200 people per theatre.

Director of operations at Limelight Cinemas Michael Singh told Canberra Weekly he welcomed the changes but lamented that he wasn’t allowed to fill his Tuggeranong theatres to 50% capacity at the start of the school holidays.

“It would have been a blessing to have them lifted at start of school holidays, probably won’t feel [the] full benefit until Christmas holidays when we would hope for a further easing of restrictions,” he said.

Mr Singh said the cinema industry more widely is in in an “awkward stage” where international film distributors have pushed back blockbuster releases to mid-2021 due to the global film market’s downturn.

“It’s great that we can increase occupancy in cinemas, the true story is though our industry is in other troubles at the moment,” he said.

“The big blockbusters have been moved out of schedule, and it’s harder to fill screens and occupancy if you don’t have the content.

“We are getting dribs and drabs and there’s good Australian content still getting released.

“The big blockbuster stuff is the fresh air our cinema needs, and we need and want those movies to be released as soon as we can, but we’re getting bad news from our film distributor friends.”

During their COVID-19 restrictions imposed closure earlier in the year Limelight Tuggeranong underwent extensive renovations to their cinema theatres and foyers.

To get people throughout the door they’ve begun showing live sport on the big screen – with the Raiders finals, State of Origin and the AFL Grand Final all being shown, retro screening events and even live video game sessions on the big screen.

Larger venues such as Canberra Theatre and AIS Arena are now able to have ticketed and seated events up to 50% capacity up to 1,000 people.

Canberra Theatre director Alex Budd said the move will allow them to bring “larger-scale productions” back to Canberra, after up to 600 attendees were allowed into their 1,200 seat theatre for performances of Room on the Broom from 1-3 October in a trial of the new rules.

“Since reopening, we’ve seen the vast majority of our limited-capacity performances sell out, and an increased capacity will help us meet Canberrans’ heartening demand for theatre experiences,” Mr Budd said.

“50% capacity is a great first step, and we look forward to further increasing our capacity as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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