When Tori Baker closed the doors of Salt Lake Film Society cinemas in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she pledged to remain closed for at least six weeks.
“Everyone in the art house business, even though I was crazy,” Baker said this week. “Everyone was like, ‘You’re going to lose all these titles, we’re going to open in two weeks.'”
In the end, the Salt Lake Film Society closed its two cinemas – the six-screen Broadway Center Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City and the historic Tower Theater in the Ninth & Ninth Neighborhoods – for 19 months as the pandemic worsened and worsened and rose again.
On Friday, the nonprofit will reopen Broadway while the Tower continues its renovations.
“We cleaned up a lot – and we don’t mean we [just] vacuumed, ”said Baker.
In the tower, which opened in 1928 and was first remodeled in 1950, Baker said, “We literally gutted everything. We pulled everything out, we examined our archive holdings. We looked at all the things that we have under the stages and behind them, in nooks and crannies. “
The scope of the tower’s renovations and delays in the supply chain have pushed the theater open into 2022, Baker said. (A victim of this delay: The Out of the Shadows Theater Group has moved its annual Halloween shadow show of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to the Alliance Theater in Trolley Square on October 22, 23 and 29 at 8pm each night .)
On Broadway, Baker said the most obvious change will be the health and safety protocols implemented. The Salt Lake Film Society is among 400 exhibitors across the country who have implemented the CinemaSafe program designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Signage, she said, will be plentiful.
The opening weekend line-up will be an eclectic mix of independent films, with a big budget surprise: “Dune,” director Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel about palace intrigues, mind-altering spices and giant desert worms.
As an art house, says Baker, “we mean that we also curate art based on artistic merit. I will always play a Martin Scorsese or a Quentin Tarantino film, even if they are not usually sold to me as a small art house. It’s about the artist and it’s about the work of art. “
In line with Villeneuve’s “Dune”, the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” will also be shown on Broadway. It describes the failed attempt by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky from the 1970s to bring his crazy version of Herbert’s novel onto the screen. And on October 29th, Baker booked David Lynch’s visually stunning but narrative tight adaptation of “Dune” from 1984 with Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young and a blue pantyhose.
Also playing this weekend: Mia Hanson-Løves romantic drama “Bergman Island” with Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth; Todd Haynes’ musical documentary “The Velvet Underground”; “The Rescue,” a documentary about the ordeal of a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave in 2018; the Netflix-produced western “The Harder They Fall,” starring Idris Elba and Regina King; and a re-release of the 1981 horror thriller “Possession” with Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill.
While Broadway is open to ticket and popcorn sales, the Salt Lake Film Society continues to show films on its online portal SLFS @ Home. This program started in response to the pandemic and simulated the art house experience to stream at home. Since launching the home portal, Baker said, SLFS has worked with 34 art houses across the country to customize the software for their use.
The nonprofit SLFS also created a summer program called Backlot Cinema, a boutique drive-in theater that showed a curated selection of films on Friday and Saturday nights. The drive-in season ended October 16, but Baker said it will return next year when the weather warms up.
Baker decided in May that October would be the target date for Broadway to reopen, both because of unanswered questions about the pandemic and because more art-house titles would be available in the fall than in the blockbuster-heavy summer.
The question Baker asked when deciding to reopen was, “What is the cost to be up and running compared to the number of people willing to return?”
Hollywood has been grappling with this question in the last few weeks. The answer, based on the box office numbers, seems to be that action films aimed at teenagers and young adults – like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” – have many selling tickets , while films aimed at older audiences (the most recent example being the medieval drama “The Last Duel”) do not attract as many customers to theaters.
The return of Broadway comes two weeks after another theater in downtown Salt Lake City held a spectacular opening. The Megaplex Theater at The Gateway officially reopened on October 8th after a soft opening a few weeks earlier.
The Utah-based megaplex chain has converted the Gateway location, which opened in 2001, with a dozen lecture halls into a complex with nine screens with all relaxation seats, laser projection and Dolby Atmos sound. Megaplex removed two theaters and converted a third into an event space that the company’s other locations make available for wedding receptions, business meetings, and other events.
Baker commended the support of donors and the community for allowing the SLFS to keep their stationary theaters closed for 19 months.
“They want to support you, they have the feeling that you are important in the community. But you just don’t know how far you can take that, “Baker said, adding,” We have options because we’re community-based and mission-driven and we just have to open other theaters and make some money. “