Amherst Cinema will reopen for small groups of filmgoers

  • Vaccinated Baystate Health Center workers gather for a movie last month at Amherst Cinema. The movie house is now selling limited tickets for in-person showings. ALEX HORNBECK/COURTESY AMHERST CINEMA

  • The Amherst Cinema is reopening with limited ticket sales for in-person film viewing, while continuing to offer virtual movies through its website. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 09, 2021

AMHERST — After a year of being largely closed to the public, Amherst Cinema is now opening its theaters at reduced capacity.

Starting Friday, March 12, groups of up to five people will be able to buy tickets at a regular price for a film that will be shown in the cinema’s largest theater, which seats 179 people. Tickets are $10.75 for general admission and $7.50 for Amherst Cinema members.

All ticket sales will take place online and in advance, and attendees will need to wear face masks. Only one group of filmgoers will be allowed in the cinema at a time. Limited concessions will also be available.

The new policy replaces one that began last November, when the cinema opened its main theater for private rentals to families and private parties, allowing 10 people at a time to watch a movie of their choice by bringing in a DVD or Blu-ray disc to be screened by staff, or by selecting one from the cinema’s catalog. Renting the space cost between $100 and $300.

In late February, the cinema also rented theater space to eight vaccinated medical workers from Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield to watch “One Night in Miami,” a new film about a fictionalized meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in 1964.

Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, the cinema’s executive director, said the Baystate employees — midwives, nurses and doctors who she says are on the “front lines” of fighting the pandemic — all observed basic safety protocols, sitting several feet apart and wearing masks, while cinema staff were double-masked as well.

“To our knowledge this was the first fully vaccinated group to visit the cinema,” she said. “They had found us through our website.”

Eisenhauer said the new small group ticketed screening program is part of a “phased reopening” that will test the waters for gradually allowing more people into the theater, and offering films at a more affordable price.

“We’re as anxious as anyone to open again for the public and our members, but we have to do it carefully,” she said. “But we wanted to take this step.”

The first two films available for viewing at the cinema are “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand and directed by Mount Holyoke College alum Chloé Zhao, and “Minarai,” starring Steven Yeun and written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung.

Both films have already won a number of awards and are generating Oscar buzz as well.

The cinema will continue offering virtual film screenings through its website, Eisenhauser says. Meanwhile, new safety measures have been added at the theater, including upgrades to the HVAC system, plexiglass barriers at “point-of-sales” locations, and new seats that can be easily disinfected.

More information is available at amherstcinema.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.