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How Are Cinemas and Theatres Going to Survive the Covid-19 Pandemic?


The Coronavirus has created a very different world within the space of a few weeks, starting with an influx of infections in China, spreading across the globe and ratcheting up thousands of deaths in the process. Now officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) it seems that governments are stepping up their responses in order to contain the virus and its knock-on effects.

As part of a the shutdown, many countries have instigated a policy whereby gatherings are either not permitted or very limited. This has led to a number of events being cancelled in an effort to flatten the curve and prevent much longer term consequences. This worldwide response echoes the influenza outbreak of 1918, as efforts are made to curb the spread of Covid-19, encouraging people to stay at home and practice good hygiene. While there's been much speculation on the virus and the outbreak, generating plenty of misinformation and memes in the process, it's clear that this pandemic is occupying most people's minds at present.

Can Cinemas and Theatres Survive the Pandemic

Unfortunately, with the cancellation of events and new limits in terms of what events are permitted, it does mean that cinemas and theatres have had to scramble to figure out the next step. While many people have been ordered to work from home and schools have closed, this has meant that there's an opportunity for people to visit the mall and go to cinemas. This is counter-productive to government's restrictions and containment measures.

Cinemas have complied with government regulations by providing sanitation stations, cleaning cinemas between screenings, limiting screenings from midday to 6pm as well as reducing the cinema capacity to 50%. This move makes it possible for patrons to sit clear of each other in an effort to maintain social distancing. However, as much as business needs to continue... it seems irresponsible to promote the cinema-going experience right now. One wonders just how much, if any, financial assistance government will provide venues who rely on public gathering.

As critical as it is to surviving this difficult period, it seems to go against the tide when most medical agencies are trying to advocate people stay at home. While you may maintain a safe distance from your fellow audience members, there's still a risk that someone who has been infected will still spread the easily contracted virus. As businesses, they have to look after their own interests but also need to bear in mind the greater story at play. While these methods may seem like a good idea in the short term, they could prolong the after-effects of the virus making it more difficult to curtail within months rather than weeks.

Essentially driven by crowds, we do seem to be at a critical turning point where cinemas and theatres are struggling for numbers under the current economic conditions. Many cinematic releases scheduled for this period have been postponed, delayed or shelved indefinitely. Obviously if you don't have anyone to watch the film in a time when people are actively being dissuaded from actually attending a cinema, it's not the right time to reap box office rewards.

While all of these measures are being put in place with some film productions actually being ground to a halt, it does seem that some creative thinking needs to happen in order to find workable solutions. The National Arts Festival has already announced that it will be doing things differently by going virtual this year. Scheduled to happen in a few months there's going to be a lot of chopping and changing in order to make it feasible.

Festival goers will understand why these measures are being adopted by posting the festival predominantly online, but it will be an interesting experiment for the organisers to enable events to go ahead and still make the festival financially viable. Grahamstown was renamed Makhanda and unfortunately has been struggling to deal with water pipe issues, making the infrastructure vulnerable, especially under the duress of an influx of crowds.

Many of the film exhibitors will be waiting for some word from studios and distributors. At the moment, the current release schedule has dropped down from about four to five film releases per week to two or three. The natural thinking is to take productions online with a number of film releases such as Birds of Prey and Bloodshot getting video-on-demand platforms much sooner than ordinarily possible. Already under the strain of the streaming revolution, this outbreak couldn't have come at a worse time making it much more difficult for cinemas to keep their doors open, cover their mall rental and maintain some of the loyalty and carefully built up habits of their dwindling viewership.

Being forced to stay at home naturally would lead to more people simply switching to online streaming platforms like Netflix, Showmax or Amazon Prime with the added fear of possibly contracting the virus by venturing out. With so many exhibitors, events and productions being affected, one would hope that there will be some consolidation between the affected parties. Not only are films not being screened as per usual, but the suporting functions around these releases and advertising on these platforms will also take a knock. Perhaps some sort of central, yet localised streaming network for performance and local films would make a lot of sense.

While the idea of going to the movies certainly involves much more than simply pressing play, those who are loyal and willing to support this in-between stage could find themselves subscribing to a different form of streaming service. It's a lot to ask in such a short time period, especially when each hour that goes by is so critical but it's something that affects enough people that there should be a movement towards making it a reality.

 
World on Edge: The Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic Affects 2020 Film Releases


The Coronavirus, officially Covid-19, has wreaked havoc over the last few weeks and months as it's become the watchword on almost everyone's mind. Washing your hands, maintaining good hygiene and distancing yourself from possible infection, authorities have tried to clamp down on the spread of the pandemic.

Reflected in pop culture through films like Outbreak and Contagion, on TV shows like Young Sheldon and depicted with eerie similarities in the Dean Koontz novel, The Eyes of Darkness, the pandemic panic has turned breaking news into a situation of filmic proportions. While many have made jokes, memes and amusing news stories about gangs of monkeys, zombies and impending apocalypse, possibly in an effort to cope with the turn of disastrous events, the virus is deadly serious.

Taking drastic measures, some countries have closed their borders completely in an effort to curtail the spread of the virus. Containment areas have been set up in hospitals to quarantine people affected by the virus, which has flu-like symptoms but a much higher rate of mortality. Influenza has a mortality rate of 0.4% while the Coronavirus has been measured at roughly 4%, 10 times higher, affecting those with a compromised immune system or the elderly more detrimentally.

The pandemic has claimed many lives over the last few weeks as its spread to all corners of the earth. People coming back from affected areas have brought with them the contagion, making its spread inevitable. Governments and medical agencies are working together in order to try and educate the public, promote hygienic practices and limit social events where it could be transmitted more sporadically. Testing people coming off international flights, there is an effort to stop the virus which has recently led to Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson testing positive, after contracting it during the making of a film about Elvis being filmed in Australia.

Every couple of years we have a new strain of disease whether it be bird flu, swine flu, ebola or another contagion making headlines, which sends waves of panic, fear and uncertainty. Social media has made it easier to spread news of potential pandemics much easier, but has also brought about wildfire misinformation at the same time. Many industries have been affected by the Coronavirus, which has limited international travel, cancelled conferences and drastically affected people planning holidays, honeymoons, weddings or business overseas.

While you can understand how the hospitality trade has been adversely affected, many businesses have had to rethink their offering and even investigate their potential liability around the spread of, or infection of potential clients and customers. The film industry has been hit hard as international shoots have been halted and major film releases have had their dates delayed or postponed indefinitely. At this point, the new Bond film No Time to Die has been delayed until November, Peter Rabbit 2 has been delayed to August, A Quiet Place Part II has been delayed indefinitely and the new Fast and Furious sequel has been pushed back to next year. One wonders just how many other big releases over the next month or two will follow suite.

It seems that studios are not willing to gamble with the uncertainty of the next few weeks, which could see a rise in infection rates. Moreover, having people encouraged to go to cinemas where they could possibly get infected just seems irresponsible. As we know with film, it's a business centred around the bottom line which is selling tickets and this could be compromised by more stringent measures around cancelled social events. In Qatar, a 30-day shutdown has been instigated, which has been leveled at places of public gathering such as cinemas and theatres. Over the next few days and weeks, this shutdown could be forced upon other governments in countries in an attempt to keep the virus from spreading. So it's a wise decision for studios to delay their film releases until they have more information. While some countries have been hit worse than others, it does seem that an escalation of response is becoming overwhelmingly necessary and given the number of deaths relating to the virus is the next unavoidable step.

It's true that the fear-mongering by the media shouldn't lead people to the point of delirium around stockpiling things such as toilet paper in Australia, however the virus is serious and agencies should do whatever they can to limit its spread and save thousands of lives in the process. Many have used this opportunity to highlight some of the other major issues that go by seemingly unnoticed as murder rates, starvation and even flu deaths ratchet up radical numbers, but hopefully it will encourage people to be more conscientious about their hygiene subverting the spread of other seasonal less dangerous infections and diseases.

After reportedly losing R4.3 billion in sales in China alone, the Corona beer brand has taken a massive knock in the first two months of 2020. While they may be hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, it's taking on much more personal and intimate significance for the many people who have lost loved ones. One thing's for certain, the world is on edge... waiting for a cure, quarantine or miracle to subvert the pandemic panic.

 
New SPL!NG Podcast Series: Must Love Movies


Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling has been reviewing film on radio for the better part of the last decade. Starting with a small segment on 2Oceansvibe radio, he maintained a regular slot on ChaiFM for several years, another weekly slot on Radio 702/CapeTalk and has appeared on a number of radio stations in an interview capacity.

While his broadcast career has found him talking about film on South African radio, he has also been interviewed on BBC 5 Radio. Proffering his expert opinion on talk radio stations across the country, his insights and commentary have become synonymous with Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio. As part of a biweekly broadcast, his Talking Movies review slot has ensured his role as resident film critic at the classical and jazz radio station. Able to pontificate and expand on his reviews as part of a six minute review slot, he has made it his mission to offer concise, intelligent and thoughtful reviews for avid FMR listeners over the last six years.

While Spling has certainly made radio a big part of his life, he has also dabbled in podcasts. Serving as the host of the Three Wells of Screenwriting podcast with Matthew Kalil, in which the two interview a series of screenwriters and writers, it was time that Spling launched his own podcast show.

Must Love Movies Podcast

Having been in the pipeline for a number of years, Spling decided to build the podcast around a private screening with the guest. Interviewing them about their career, forthcoming prospects, top 10 movies, movie trivia and even games, the film critic has turned what could have been a stuffy 30 minute podcast into something light, infotaining, heartfelt and enjoyable. The first podcast featuring producer, screenwriter and novelist, Stefan Enslin (pictured above), encapsulates what Spling hopes the show will grow into - offering listeners a good idea of what to expect from future Must Love Movies podcasts going forward.

The aim of the podcast series is to celebrate all things film, which is why Spling has invited celebrated personalities in order to get another side to their world. Using the guest's top 10 films as a springboard, Spling picks one of the favourite films screening at the 12 Apostles Hotel cinema. After watching the film, he and the guest are able to engage in a fresh discussion about the love of the film before moving into a discussion around the movie memories and preferences.

Fan culture is quite limited in South Africa with blockbusters tending to soak up most of the excitement and speculation. A conservative art culture, it's quite difficult for moviegoers to get excited about certain films and Must Love Movies is an attempt to enliven some of the films from our past. Discussing these films in a candid setting between people who are passionate about film makes it that much more interesting and appealing, hopefully leading listeners to explore some of the films discussed on Must Love Movies. Perhaps with time, this podcast will travel or draw visiting international celebrities, enabling them to have a fun and surprisingly revealing conversation around everything film.

 
SAFTA Film Nominees 2020 - 14th Edition


The fourteenth edition of the SAFTAs, South Africa's local TV and Film awards ceremony, is coming soon. While SPL!NG has had reservations about the ceremony, referring to it as McSAFTAs under its awkward partnership with McCafe, it seems to have adopted a more subtle approach under its partnership with Grolsch. The nomination annoucement images don't have any branding, making it seem as though they're focusing on the celebration and talent.

While this is a positive development for both the TV and film industry, as well as the integrity of the awards, there's still much work to be done. The South African Film and Television Awards is essentially our Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys rolled into one. While it's a privilege to even have an awards ceremony honouring the best talent in our country, now in its 14th year, we still need to dot the i's and cross the t's. As TV with Thinus, pointed out -releasing the nominees to media in PDF format is restrictive in terms of accessibility of information for distribution. While some PDF software can remedy this hurdle, you'd expect the Golden Horns to make it easy to publicise and at least get their nominee's names right. Spelling errors, incorrect names, not presenting their names as billed in the film credits or IMDB, it's a little careless and doesn't reflect well on those who have been identified as worthy of a Golden Horn.

South African Film and Television Awards - SAFTAs

While it's great to see so many female-led films about strong South African women dominating the film nominations, there are some curious judging decisions. The strangest is quite simply that this year's official Oscar contender, the feature film selected to represent South Africa for the coveted Best International Feature Film, didn't make the Best Picture selection of the local awards show. One has to imagine that the film's contentious subject matter, criticised by some as a callous display of toxic masculinity, may have something to do with it. Over the last year, there's been a drive to give voice to the victims of sexual violence, rallying against the abuse of women and children. Within this context, there would probably be some outrage over a film like Knuckle City winning Best Picture.

Some of these women happened to be boxers, who became victims of such abuse at the hands of men. Perhaps the selectors decided that nominating Knuckle City for Best Picture would be in bad taste based on current trends. The film has earned nominations in virtually every category, making this snub both contentious and political, especially in light of its selection as our Oscar hopeful.

Another film, which should have garnered a Best Picture nomination is Christiaan Olwagen's stage play adaptation of Die Seemeeu. A stellar and unconventional drama using free-flowing cinematography and touching on some deeper strains of drama, it's uncharted territory for South African film. Moreover, having Olwagen's Poppie Nongena in the running may have made a double nomination seem conspicuous. Both Knuckle City and Die Seemeeu are pushing the boundaries of local film-making, crafting bold and relentless dramas that are ahead of their time, too big or niche for our local awards show to truly appreciate.

Here's a list of the film nominees at this year's event.

Best Achievement in Directing - Feature Film

Fiela se Kind - Brett Michael Innes
Knuckle City - Jahmil X.T. Qubeka
Poppie Nongena - Christiaan Olwagen

Best Achievement in Scriptwriting

Fiela se Kind - Brett Michael Innes
Knuckle City - Jahmil X.T. Qubeka
Poppie Nongena - Christiaan Olwagen and Saartjie Botha

Best Actress - Feature Film

Sandra Prinsloo, Die Seemeeu
Zenobia Kloppers, Fiela se Kind
Clementine Mosimane, Poppie Nongena

Best Actor – Feature Film

Albert Pretorius, Die Seemeeu
Stian Bam, Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer
Bongile Mantsai, Knuckle City

Best Supporting Actress - Feature Film

Cintaine Schutte, Die Seemeeu
Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Poppie Nongena
Elize Dunster, Skemerson (Sun, Cry, Moon)

Best Supporting Actor - Feature Film

Wayne van Rooyen, Fiela se Kind
Patrick Ndlovu, Knuckle City
Thembekile Komani, Knuckle City

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Skemerson (Sun, Cry, Moon), William Collinson
Poppie Nongena, Victoria Turpin
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Willie Nel
Fiela se Kind, Tom Marais
Knuckle City, Willie Nel

Best Achievement in Editing

Back of the Moon, Sibongeleni Mabuyakhulu & Megan Gill
Fiela se Kind, Cornelius Abraham van Aswegen
Cut-Out Girls, Brett Rayner
Knuckle City, Layla Swart
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Warrick Allan

Best Achievement in Production Design

Knuckle City, TK Khampepe & Justice Nhlapo
Fiela se Kind, Chantel Carter
Back of the Moon, Dylan Lloyd
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Chantel Carter

Best Achievement in Make Up and Hairstyling

An Act of Defiance, Julia Rubinstein
Zulu Wedding, Bongi Mlotshwa
Poppie Nongena, Gale Shepherd
Fiela se Kind, Maritsa Maritz
Knuckle City, Carol Babalwa Mtshiselwa

Best Achievement in Directing – Documentary Feature

Buddha in Africa - Nicole Schafer
Dying for Gold - Catherine Meyburgh and Richard Pakleppa
The Fun's Not Over - The James Phillips Story - Michael Cross

Best Documentary Feature

Buddha in Africa - Thinking Strings Media
Dying for Gold - Breathe Films
Sound of Masks - Lionfish Productions
The Fun's Not Over - The James Phillips Story - Rogue Productions

Best Short Film

Die Begrafnis
Joko Ya Hao
The Letter Reader

 
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