Local movie buffs can rejoice as the Jacob Burns Film Center announced Wednesday that it is scheduled to reopen on Friday, Apr. 30.
Founding Director of Film Programming Brian Ackerman said it’s “thrilling” to be able to set a date for the return of movies at the popular downtown Pleasantville venue. The announcement came several days shy of the anniversary of last year’s mid-March shutdown.
“We’re going to have people to see and we’re going to have movies to see,” Ackerman said. “It’s a sense of connection that people so desperately need and it’s such a part of living.”
Plans are being made to reopen the film center using the three downstairs theaters with no more than 25 percent capacity and a maximum of 50 people in one auditorium, the current allowable limit, he said. As a result, the largest theater with 250 seats will be less than 25 percent filled.
The two upstairs screens will reopen at a later date, he said.
Although movie theaters in the state outside of New York City were permitted to open in late October if the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate was under 2 percent, the Burns decided to stay shut. Ackerman said as the necessary steps were being taken to reopen, the rate soon began rising to levels that would have required another closure.
While disappointing to wait six months, Ackerman said looking back he didn’t think it would have been very productive to operate for a few weeks before needing to shut down again. Since last year, the film center has been offering movies online, which has helped keep it in the public’s consciousness.
“We’re into the spring, it’s getting brighter, it’s getting warmer, it’s not getting colder,” he said. “Certainly, everything is sort of a leaning in a way which is kind of exciting and hopeful. Certainly, it’s more than exciting, it’s thrilling.”
The film center is following a long list of health and safety measures to keep staff and patrons safe. It has already installed bi-polar ionization air purification units for all air-conditioning systems at the theater and Media Arts Lab. The units help kill airborne particulates and surface mold, including bacteria and viruses similar to COVID-19.
Plexiglass guards and shields have been installed at points of high contact, including the box office, customer service desk and concessions counter. There will also be an outdoor box office window. Online ticket purchases will also be encouraged.
The theater has also applied markings on the floor for customers to maintain proper social distancing and will have public hand sanitizers throughout the building.
Patrons will be required to wear masks except when eating in their seats, customers will be assigned seats by staff, seats will be sanitized after each screening and bathrooms will regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Ackerman said it isn’t known what the movie schedule will be until closer to the opening. He’s hopeful that as more people get vaccinated, movie lovers will steadily come back once they feel comfortable.
“It’s going to be a slow opening,” Ackerman said. “Everything that we open is going to be. A portion of the population is probably going to be conservative.”
Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said the pending return of the Jacob Burns, even at a reduced capacity, will be beneficial to the village’s businesses and residents. Not only will it bring more people to the downtown, it will also signify a steady return to a more normal life.
“The Burns is a tremendously important piece of our local economy,” Scherer said. “It’s a tremendously important piece of our arts and culture world and to have it dark for over a year, obviously, is an enormous hit on them. But it’s been an enormous hit on our residents and also our economy.”
Ackerman said he looks forward to re-engaging with the community and rekindling the relationship with the businesses and the village.
He also thanked supporters for their donations to help the film center get through the past year.
“We’ve been able to survive because we’ve received unbelievable support from our community and that’s been unbelievably heartening,” Ackerman said. “It’s been amazing to see that kind of wind at our backs, the way the community has stepped up and said ‘We want to make sure you guys survived.’”