For movie buffs, it may feel like an eternity since they were able to settle into the seats at the Sag Harbor Cinema to enjoy a movie. But film fans can now rejoice, as the wait will soon be over.
On Friday, April 9, the newly rebuilt and redesigned movie theater will open its doors to the public in what is being billed as a “soft re-opening.” Though in recent months, the cinema has hosted some private screenings and offered small group tours of the facility, the April 9 date will mark the first time the public will be welcomed into the space to see films since a December 2016 fire destroyed part of the Art Deco building.
“It’s been a long and challenging road to get to this moment,” noted the cinema’s capital campaign chair, April Gornik. “But at long last, we are thrilled to be able to open our doors to Sag Harbor and the East End, to welcome you back to your brand new cinema — masked and distanced, of course.”
Beginning March 5, movie theaters throughout New York State were permitted to operate with COVID-19 restrictions in place — that is, at 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of 50 people present wearing masks. Going forward, Artistic Director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan said those numbers will be adjusted to reflect any changes in the state guidelines. In addition, Sag Harbor Cinema said in a release that it is adhering to the National Association of Theater Owners’ CinemaSafe guidelines by offering pre-reserved, socially distanced seating and non-recirculatory audience flow.
Inside the new facility, visitors will find three theaters of varying size — the main theater has 230 seats, the second has 90 and the third is a screening room that seats 38 — with state-of-the-art screens and digital projection, industry-leading HVAC and air-sanitizing systems and high-end sound systems. The new cinema also has a cafe, a lounge and other spaces for community use.
While the two largest theaters will be used for public screenings, for movie-goers still looking to limit their contact, the cinema is offering “Pod Screenings.” For $150, the screening room may be reserved for the exclusive use of a pod of up to 10 people for a showing of any one of the cinema’s film programs, with the entire room sanitized between each show.
Now for the opening lineup. Azazel Jacobs’ film “French Exit,” which stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges, is based on Patrick deWitt’s subversive novel about a recently-widowed Manhattan socialite and will play daily at 4:30 and 7 p.m., beginning April 9. The director will appear via Zoom for a post screening Q&A following the 7 p.m. show on Saturday, April 10.
Also launching April 9, is award-winning festival-favorite and Oscar frontrunner “Nomadland” by filmmaker Chloé Zhao. Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, the film follows Fern (Frances McDormand) as she packs her van and sets off on the road to explore a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. “Nomadland” will play daily. Check the cinema’s website for show times.
The Cinema will also screen Oscar Shorts — three full-length programs of the animated, live action and documentary short films in competition this year. This is a chance to see each short film and predict the winners ahead of The Academy Awards on April 25. Oscar Shorts will play daily starting April 9. Check the cinema’s website for programs and show times.
Finally, on Saturday and Sunday, April 9-10, at 1 p.m., the theater will offer matinée screenings of Irish animator Tomm Moore’s hand-drawn, Academy Award-nominated film “Wolfwalkers,” about an apprentice wolf trapper in the town of Kilkenny who forms a strange bond with the creatures she is dedicated to exterminating. The film is the third entry in Moore’s “Irish Folklore Installment,” following “The Secret of Kells” (2004) and “Song of the Sea” (2014).
“We believe the theatrical experience makes a difference,” said Vallan. “Which is why in addition to some exciting first runs and special events, in the next few weeks, we will be presenting outstanding titles of the award season that, due to COVID, could not be shown in cinemas, but deserve to be seen on the big screen.”
While the public will be able to see films beginning April 9, personnel stress that this is not the cinema’s grand opening. That, they say, will take place over Memorial Day Weekend and will feature a full complement of films, along with a fully-open third floor and numerous other diversions and attractions.
Tickets for opening programs will be available on the Sag Harbor Cinema website, sagharborcinema.org, beginning April 2. Sag Harbor Cinema is at 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor.