Thursday, July 25, 2024

Local film series pick up the slack as chain movie theaters struggle to reopen

Wilson Center, in partnership with Thalian Hall, launched Skyline Drive-In Movie series in the Hanover Street Parking Deck downtown a few weeks ago, and will screen Wilmington-filmed flicks, including “The Crow” on Oct. 8-10 and “Firestarter” on Oct. 11. Port City Daily / Wilson Center staff

WILMINGTON — On Sept. 30 movie theaters received the go-ahead from Governor Roy Cooper to open in North Carolina with limited seating under COVID-19 restrictions. 

While Stone Theater’s The Pointe 14 Cinemas at Barclay won’t open until November, according to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, AMC Classic Wilmington 16 on Cinema Drive is planning to run the reels again on Oct. 16.

Regal Mayfaire and IMAX barely opened before the movie chain’s subsidiary group, Cineworld, announced Monday it would close over 500 U.S. locations until further notice. 

Local Regal Mayfaire and IMAX temporarily will shutter on Thursday, just as around 40,000 Regal employees face a work furlough in the U.S., according to Cineworld Group.

The company’s communications department did not respond to inquiries requesting how many employees would be affected locally. 

While Mayfaire’s specialty leasing manager and marketing director, Paige Coniglio, confirmed the shopping center has no plans to replace the tenant at this time, she couldn’t answer how much revenue loss Mayfaire will face during Regal’s indefinite closure. 

Still, moviegoers won’t be totally left in the lurch. 


WHQR and Thalian Hall’s curated art-house movie experience, Cinematique, wasted no time relaunching its popular series Monday after being closed since March. For more than 20 years, Cinematique has screened a variety of documentaries, comedies, dramas and features at downtown’s historic theater. 

Mary Bradley, development director for WHQR, admitted it’s been more difficult programming the series in the chaos of 2020. 

“COVID has definitely had an impact, as there are far fewer films available for screening,” Bradley said. “We are trying to select the best made, highly rated, positive films we think the Cinematique audience would appreciate.”

Thalian Hall and WHQR’s Cinematique program allows 100 moviegoers in its theater under Governor Roy Cooper’s current Phase 3 executive order. Port City Daily / courtesy Thalian Hall

Only 100 moviegoers (30% capacity) are allowed in Thalian Hall to adhere to the governor’s social-distance protocols. While tickets remain a little over $10 with fees, discussions are underway about a price increase. 

The Cinematique series sold more than 11,000 tickets between March and October 2019, according to Tony Rivenbark, Thalian Hall’s executive director. “The total income [was] over $90,000, which does not include concessions, fees, and sales tax,” Rivenbark noted. 

By comparison, 2020 has brought in less than $10,000 to date. That figure includes money from Cinematique, plus the Sofa Series WHQR launched during COVID-19. The program allowed people to rent specially selected movies in the comfort of their homes, with proceeds split between WHQR and Thalian Hall. 

“We had about 400 total rentals for the Sofa Series,” Bradley said, though she’s only reporting half of the 51 films. “Our total gross for Thalian Hall and WHQR thus far is $1,800.”

Skyline Drive-In Movies

Thalian Hall also joined forces with the Wilson Center to launch Skyline Drive-In Movies on the sixth floor of the Hanover Street Parking Deck at Cape Fear Community College downtown. According to Wilson Center’s executive director Shane Fernando, the idea gained traction after Rivenbark mentioned testing the waters with a drive-in experience for Thalian.

“They just didn’t have the location,” Fernando said.

Fernando already was familiar with the ins and outs of doing outdoor drive-in concerts at Wilson Center’s parking lot. Developing it into a cinematic experience at the parking deck next door was made easier by the resources Thalian Hall had, including the screen, projector and film distributor. The simpatico relationship ensures a 50/50 split of funds after expenses, with moviegoers paying $30-$40 per carload. 

The Skyline series has focused on movies made in Wilmington and southeastern N.C. in its first round of screenings. It’s shown “Blue Velvet” and “The Conjuring” over the last few weeks, with “The Crow” and “Firestarter” slated for this week.

Yet, how long the series will continue is under review.

“It all depends on where everything goes,” Fernando said. “We are discussing potentially adding another batch of films, but now that the Hall has reopened [Cinematique], we are weighing our options.” 

Curbside Cinema began in July, launched by Cucalorus, UNCW and other community partners, and will continue its Friday night series through December. The drive-in also will screen films as part of the 26th Cucalorus Festival, Thursday through Saturday, during two weeks in November. Port City Daily / courtesy Cucalorus

Curbside Cinema

In midtown, UNCW has been hosting Curbside Cinema drive-in, in conjunction with Cucalorus Festival and local partners. Dan Brawley, executive director of Cucalorus, said all 18 films shown so far have been close to selling out since the series started in July. 

Curbside Cinema films are curated each month by Brawley and StarNews editor John Staton. Monthly, they select an ‘80s classic, an animated family-friendly film, a Cucalorus-approved independent film, as well as a local film. 

“‘Iron Man 3’ definitely brought in a lot of viewers,” Brawley said.

The drive-in takes place every Friday in Kenan Auditorium’s parking lot and can host 85 cars, with tickets costing $28 a carload.

“It’s really been a laboratory for us to figure out how to show movies in this new world,” Brawley said. “With drive-ins, you have to have bigger screens higher in the air to reach all viewers in their cars.”

Cucalorus invested in new equipment to meet the demands of the makeshift, outdoor movie theater. “It’s been different, for sure, but fun,” Brawley added. 

Yet, the executive director is no stranger to doing pop-up movie series. Cucalorus has hosted films regularly with the Town of Leland, Wrightsville Beach and in Wilson, N.C., at the Whirligig Park. The organization recently expanded its reach to Tarboro and the Outer Banks, too. 

“We also have a series we are doing with Cape Fear Academy and the Junior League of Wilmington coming up,” Brawley added. 

In November, as Cucalorus launches its 26th annual festival, Curbside Cinema will up the ante on its programming. Cucalorus-selected films will screen three times a week, Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 11-25.

“Then we will take a break at Thanksgiving and come back in December,” Brawley said. “We want to continue offering locals a place to see quality films.”

Upcoming Screenings

Cinematique • Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St. • All movies at 7 p.m.

Oct. 12-14: “Made in Italy” 

Oct. 19-21: “The Personal History of David Copperfield”

Skylight Drive-In Movies • Sixth floor, Hanover Street Parking Deck, CFCC • All movies at 8 p.m.

Oct. 8-10: “The Crow”

Oct. 11: “Firestarter”

Curbside Cinema • Kenan Auditorium parking lot, UNCW • All movies at 8 p.m.

Oct. 9: “Black Panther”

Oct. 10: “School of Rock”

Oct. 16: “Beetlejuice”

Oct. 23: “Ghostbusters”

Oct. 30: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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