By GWEN OREL
Montclairians who want to go out to the movies will have to wait a little longer.
On Aug. 18, a federal judge ruled against movie theater owners seeking relief from pandemic restrictions imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy. Judge Brian R. Martinotti ruled that Murphy’s executive order did not violate the theater owners’ First Amendment rights of free expression.
No movie theater in the area is opening up soon.
Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall said he is glad the movie theaters lost their July
lawsuit against Murphy’s executive order.
“They are not epidemiologists, and neither am I,” Hall said. “The responsible thing to do is wait until it’s safe and people feel it’s safe. It’s silly to open the door at 25-percent capacity. You have all the costs, and people don’t come. A lot of businesses have jumped the gun. It’s not an effective business strategy for anybody.”
Some movie theaters have opened up in Connecticut, at reduced capacity. But, Hall said, to open up at 25-percent capacity could financially be disastrous.
What the movie-going future looks like in Montclair is uncertain: The Clairidge has disappeared from the Bow Tie site’s list of theaters.
Asked whether the cinema is permanently closed, managers responded “No comment.”
Dick Grabowsky, who owns the building at 486 Bloomfield Ave. in which the Clairidge auditoriums are housed, said that Bow Tie’s lease has “at least another year to go.”
Montclair Film’s home at 505 Bloomfield Ave., Cinema505, is also closed to the public, but the Montclair Film Festival’s 10th outing will take place this fall: at home virtually and at drive-ins.
And plans to reopen the Bellevue Theatre at 260 Bellevue Ave., which closed suddenly in 2017, are going forward but are on hold during the pandemic.
In the meantime, Amazon, Netflix and other streaming services are reaching new audiences. And Sony has delayed all of its 2020 openings until 2021.
It’s harder for movies to make as much money as video on demand or with new subscriptions.
For example, the film adaptation of the 11-time Tony Award-winning Broadway show “Hamilton,” released on July 3, led to an increase in subscriptions of 74 percent, according to analytics firm Apptopia.
Disney+ had paid $75 million for the property. The Walt Disney Co. has not released total viewership numbers; however, Forbes estimates that Disney made around $5.26 million in new revenue, which is a far cry from the $65-$73 million it could have expected in a theatrical opening weekend if it had blockbuster appeal like the 2008 movie “Hanna Montana and Miley Cyrus: the Best of Both Worlds,” or even the more modest $27 million of “Katy Perry: Part of Me” in 2012.
Family films have done well with on-demand: “Trolls World Tour” opened that way in April. Yet Forbes reports that “Trolls World Tour” earned $95 million in three weeks, compared to $93 million in one weekend when the first “Trolls” opened in 2016.
Hollywood has good reason to want a return to theatrical openings.
And people still crave a night at the movies.
Bellevue Enterprises, a division of Highgate Hall LLC, which leases the building, originally planned to open in 2020, but had some delays as it worked with the township for approvals.
The Bellevue, which opened in 1922, closed suddenly in 2017, when Bow Tie did not renew its lease.
Highgate Hall LLC, named after a tea room at the Bellevue in the 1930s, consists of seven partners: film and television producer Luke Parker Bowles, actor Patrick Wilson, developer Steven Plofker, corporate strategist Andy Childs, lawyer Larry Slous, marketer Vincent Onorati, and Brandon Jones, former partner of the in-theater dining chain Studio Movie Grill. All but Jones, who lives in Texas, are Montclair residents.
The latest plans for the Bellevue include six theaters, a restaurant and a bar. The time frame for opening is not set: Construction would take about a year to a year and a half, said Managing Director Parker Bowles. Their plans still await approval from the Zoning Board. “We’d be open now if not for COVID. We’re still very gung-ho,” he said.
“From day one, our vision has been that of a very bespoke dine-in movie theater that is led by technology,” said Jones, head of marketing for Bellevue Enterprises. “We want to respect the nearly 100-year legacy of the building and put in an experience that meets that.”
The Bellevue will use technology to assist with a feeling of security: People will be able to purchase tickets, pick their seats and order food online.
“You don’t get a second bite at the cherry,” Parker Bowles said. The Bellevue will show both independent and blockbuster films. Virtual film viewing is available now through their website, thebellevuemontclair.com.
That said, Jones knows that some movie houses will not recover, and some will close permanently. There will be acquisitions and redesigns of cinema spaces. “To get somebody
to leave their house and go to a movie theater, it will have to be an exceptional experience,” he said.
But he and Parker Bowles believe in the theatrical experience.
“People are craving an opportunity to share an experience together. You see it and hear it in conversations,” Parker Bowles said. “We’re not going to fail on this. That is the thing that will be on my gravestone, I’m sure. The Bellevue was the beating heart of Montclair. When the time is right we will break ground.”
The 10th annual Montclair Film Festival will take place Oct. 16-25: and, according to Montclair Film Executive Director Hall, 90 percent of that will be an at-home version.
People will watch movies at their own convenience, using a streaming service.
The other 10 percent of MFF will be drive-ins.
MFF began showing drive-ins, called “Carpool Theater,” this summer, with its first weekend on June 13-15 at Montclair State University.
One of the first-run films shown that weekend was “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a documentary about the late civil rights activist and congressman directed by former Montclairian Dawn Porter.
MFF also showed drive-ins July 24-26 at the Turtle Back Zoo parking lot in West Orange.
The festival in October will include about 100 films and some shorts. The full program will be announced on Oct. 2.
As in the past there will be conversations with celebrity guests hosted by Montclairian Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’ “Late Show,” and Patrick Wilson. Whether or not the conversations will be live, with audience interaction over chat, or prerecorded, is still in the process of being arranged, Hall said.
After-film Q&As are likely to be primarily prerecorded.
“The hope for the virtual festival is that people will try it to support us, more than anything else. It’s a tough situation for everybody,” he said.
Because of streaming, the window of time between a film’s being completed and showing up on Netflix or Hulu has been compressed: The filmmaker no longer has the festival circuit, he said.
In the end Hall believes the theatrical system will survive: “People want to go out and enjoy themselves. And there will be a whole lot of films waiting for the future.”