Quebec cinemas close in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Meanwhile, TIFF and Hot Docs temporarily close their venues, while theatre chains Cineplex and Landmark Cinema reduce their seating capacity by 50%.

Movie theatres across Quebec have closed after the provincial government ordered all recreational businesses and public spaces to temporarily halt operations until March 30 as part of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The government has made several measures to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, including banning gatherings of more than 250 people and asking individuals above the age of 70 to remain at home. The province has joined major cities in the U.S., such as New York and L.A., in closing theatres as a public safety measure, with the U.S. box office hitting a 20-year-low.

The closure of Quebec theatres is a major blow to Canada’s independent film sector, as Quebec audiences account for much of the annual Canadian box office. The top 10 highest performing Canadian films in the 2019 box office pulled in a combined total of more than $11 million from French audiences, compared to $1.6 million from English moviegoers.

Quebec-based distributor Opal Films has postponed the release of Tu te souviendras de moi (“You Will Remember Me”), directed by Eric Tessier, which was slated to open on March 20.

Major Toronto indie theatres the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema have closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox temporarily ceased its operations as of 5 p.m. on Saturday (March 14) for a one-month period, with an opening date set for April 14, according to a statement released to its patron. Among the programming events canceled was a live appearance of Catherine O’Hara on March 28, with a screening of her film For Your Consideration.

“At TIFF, we stand with our fellow film and arts organizations that have seen their events cancelled or postponed. We stand with artists eager to engage audiences with their work. To that end, we will be looking for every opportunity to continue doing what we do best, building bridges between great films and passionate audiences,” read the statement.

The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema has closed as of today (March 16), days following the announcement that its international film festival would be postponed. It has set a tentative reopening date for April 10, according to a statement. “Following recommendations and guidance from public health authorities, we took many precautionary steps in the hopes that it would allow us to continue to safely serve our audiences in this uncertain time. However, it is now clear that, like many other cultural destinations, we must make this unprecedented decision to suspend our operations to help curtail the spread of this terrible pandemic,” it read.

Revue Cinema, Toronto’s oldest running movie theatre, has also closed its doors as of Sunday (March 15), with events postponed until after April 5.

Canadian theatre chains Cineplex and Landmark Cinemas have remained open in provinces outside of Quebec, as of press time. However, the companies have imposed a 50% reduction in seating capacity in all theatres as part of ongoing measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Landmark has 317 screens across 45 theatres, while Cineplex has 1,693 screens across its 165 theatres.

Cineplex shares have greatly declined in the face of public coronavirus fears, falling to a low of $12.01 by 10:15 a.m. from a previous close of $20.41. The pandemic has put the proposed Cineworld acquisition of Cineplex into question as stock markets tumble, although Cineworld has maintained its stance as of the release of its 2019 financials on Thursday (March 12).

There are 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Quebec as of March 16 9 .a.m., according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, and 324 cases overall in Canada. Ontario has the largest number of confirmed cases with 145, followed by British Columbia with 73.

Efforts to limit COVID-19 in Canada have seen a number of event cancellations, as well as productions. Industry unions as guilds have urged the Canadian federal government to support workers impacted by the closures who are not eligible for EI.

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