Sycamore Cinema reopens, local cinemas talk return to movie theaters

With the reopening of several movie theaters in and around Iowa City, the future of in-person cinema looks bright.


Katie Goodale

Filmscene is seen on April 15, 2020.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

After over a year of closure, Sycamore Cinema in Iowa City reopened on April 23.

The theater is a franchise location of Marcus Theatres, as is Coral Ridge Cinema, located in the Coral Ridge Mall. Coral Ridge reopened last fall, but both cinemas are now operating at half capacity, and are open only four days out of the week, including Friday to Sunday and Tuesday.

Each cinema is taking several health and safety precautions to make movie-viewing as safe as possible for audiences. Tricia Daft, the assistant manager at Sycamore Cinema, said these precautions include mandatory reserved seating, socially distanced seating, additional food preparation precautions like wearing gloves and individually wrapped straws and utensils, as well as plexiglass barriers at cash registers.

Daft also mentioned that as the smaller of the two cinemas, Sycamore generally follows the scheduling patterns of Coral Ridge Cinema. Currently, neither cinema has a set date to open for more hours or with less restricted viewing in the future.

“Unless [Coral Ridge] changes, I don’t think we’ll be changing hours any time soon,” Daft said. “We’re also only open from noon to 8:30, where we used to be open from 9 until around 11, but I hope we’ll be open more soon.”

Local nonprofit cinema FilmScene has not reopened yet for indoor service but has arranged several outdoor in-person events to continue providing cinematic experiences that are safe for audiences. These include FilmStreet Outdoor Cinema from last year, as well as the upcoming FilmScene in the Park cinema series.

RELATED: FilmScene to host outdoor cinema series in Chauncey Swan Park

Tara Hart, the general manager at Coral Ridge Cinema, said she recommends that patrons continue to check the Marcus Theatres website for changes to operating hours and safety precautions in the future. She noted that there are unconfirmed rumors of possibly reopening fully in the summer due to an increase in business as major film releases return to playing in theaters. However, the manager said it ultimately depends on if Marcus feels confident in reopening its locations further.

Hart also mentioned that a unique option Coral Ridge added while incorporating additional health safeguards are the “MPCs,” or “Marcus Private Cinemas,” which allow customers to rent an entire theater for a group of 20 guests, and either watch a film of the customer’s choice or see one currently playing.

“Families have done that just so they can have the space,” Hart said. “Usually, it’s been just for a birthday party or a special occasion, but many have been using it just to be able to see each other and feel safe being able to do that, which is so neat.”

Andrew Sherburne, the executive director and co-founder of FilmScene, wrote in an email to *The Daily Iowan* that while there is not currently any opening date in mind for indoor cinema experiences at FilmScene, they are excited to welcome audiences back to the movies soon.

“We continue to monitor public health indicators on the best time to reopen our cinemas,” Sherburne wrote. “We are encouraged by the progress being made in Johnson County.”