On Friday, the Hodson family went out to do something they haven’t done since the pandemic struck Minnesota this spring: go out to a movie.
There were about 30 people at Paradise Theatre the night Brook and Kim Hodson took the kids out to see Batman (1989) playing on the one-screen. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Hodsons visited the theater regularly.
“We’ve tried to utilize the businesses in our home town as best we can,” said Brook. While not expressly Batman fans, the family was just thankful and felt like they could finally get out and support their home town again.
“We were worried we could lose the theater through this,” said Kim.
She isn’t the only one who is worried. Paradise Theatre Manager Jack Mathison explained COVID-19 has added additional strain to their business as the pandemic ground new movie releases to a halt.
“The film industry has been absolutely decimated, and things are still very uncertain.
And like anything, the bottom end of the industry gets hit the hardest,” Mathison lamented.
Paradise Theatre in Mora closed a few days before the state mandated shut down went into effect March 27. The theater began re-opening in mid-June, with limited showings on Friday and Saturday nights of classic films. Their seating capacity has been reduced to 25%, or approximately 75 people with additional disinfecting and social distancing measures in place.
“It’s been nice to be open again, and to see a few of our regular customers. But things have been very sluggish. We haven’t had to worry about hitting that 75 patron threshold as of yet. We know this is a supportive and generous community, but if we’re going to weather the storm we’re going to need a little help. And that starts with people coming to the movies. We need to get much closer to 75 patrons per show if we’re going to break even and ride this out,” said Mathison.
According to Mathison, one-screen theaters like the Paradise struggle as contracts with studios and agencies require new releases to be run at the theater often for a minimum of three weeks, and that a large portion of ticket sales returned to the studio. For a theater with only one screen, showing the same movie for three weekends in a row can be a detriment.
However, even that was better than no new movies at all. In the world of cinema, new content isn’t being released as studios want to wait until they can reach large audiences in big cities —the places that are hit hardest by COVID-19.
“Worse yet, some studios have decided to break the pay wall and release their new movies directly to streaming options, which could be the eventual kiss of death for small theaters across the country as we rely on exclusive engagements to bring people to the movies,” said Mathison.
To stay open, theaters across the country including other one-screen theaters like the Lake Theater in Moose Lake, have also resorted to showing family friendly, classic films like “Jaws” and “Back to the Future.”
“We know it’s not ideal, but it’s all we can do for right now,” said Mathison.
While there is uncertainty, the industry is certain to come back — but no one is quite sure how as more studios consider breaking release agreements with theaters to offer more online streaming options. Also, there are many great new movies waiting in the wings to be released like the new James Bond Movie, “No Time to Die.”
One strong point of the Paradise Theatre is its non-profit status and a history of strong community support.
“I have hope that we can weather the storm ... but we’re still going to need help from this community. And we’ve always gotten it. I believe the Mora community understands the importance and value of having a historic, main street theater in this town. We don’t have many entertainment options here, and we certainly can’t afford to lose any. And we’re definitely not the only business in town that’s hurting right now. We just need people to come to the movies, and more importantly to buy concessions, which is how all theaters make their money,” said Mathison.
Friday, July 17, and Saturday, July 18 at 7 p.m., the Paradise Theatre will be showing “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” rated PG-13. As always, tickets are $4. Supporters can learn more about making a donation to the Paradise Theatre by calling 320-679-3964, emailing email@example.com or visiting their website at www.moratheater.com/donors.