Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Loyal members help keep independent cinemas afloat

Film Forum in Greenwich Village, Manhattan remains shuttered due to the impact of COVID-19, 11/29. Photo by Courtney Guarino

The lights dim. The drama of the opening credits unfold. The smell of buttery popcorn fills the air. The shared movie going experience remains a distant memory for many in New York City, where movie theatres have been shuttered for over nine months. And although uncertainty continues, New York City’s remaining independent cinemas are hanging on due to their small size and outpour of support from loyal members. 

“Interestingly and wonderfully we have found our members to be incredibly faithful during this time,” Sonya Chung, Deputy Director of Film Forum in Greenwich Village, said. “Some people were buying memberships during our closure. They understood they weren’t going to get the membership benefits and that we weren’t screening movies, but they were getting memberships just to support us.”

Film Forum is a nonprofit movie theater that celebrates their 50th anniversary this year. Some of the 6,000 members have grown up regularly attending screenings. Of the members who were once students in the neighborhood, Chung said that they now bring their children along on the weekends to enjoy junior programming. But since their closure on March 15th, virtual screenings have taken the place of movies on the big screen – bringing in just a small fraction of what normal ticket sales would normally provide but with almost the same amount of work. 

“It requires much of the same work to screen these virtually — we have to watch the films, select the films, do the same kind of outreach to the press,” Chung said. 

Prior to COVID ticket sales, concession and merchandise made up approximately 40% of Film Forum’s total annual income — since their closure, they haven’t had these same income sources, leading to furloughs and layoffs within the company. The majority of their effort now is on fundraising. In spring, they held a fundraiser which brought in $100,000 from over 1,000 donors, twice as much as what they raised in 2019.

“It was clear the supporters were really coming forward to say we really want you to be here when this is all over and we miss you,” Chung said.

In a normal year, Anthology Film Archives in would have roughly 45,000 people attend screenings in their two theaters. Around 35% of their $1million projected income would come from these screenings and renting out the theater, bringing around $350,000 in revenue annually. Anthology has pivoted to provide online programming on various platforms to keep audiences engaged. 

“Last week, I opened a check for $1.79 which was our share of the screening for a certain period,” John Mhiripiri, Anthology’s Director, said. “Obviously that’s on the extreme end. But in half a year of online screenings, I would be surprised if we even earned a couple thousand dollars. There is just no way online movie screenings are going to generate the income we depend on as a theater.” 

Anthology’s loyal customer base view the establishment as a staple in a part of the town that they see disappearing. Mhiripiri said it’s a community hub of sorts in the East Village, where students, filmmakers and artists are able to gather. And due to members’ and donors’ generous donations, the crucial PPP loan, and owning the building — no rent payments just utilities — they’ve managed to limp along. 

“Some emergency grants have been offered, from private foundation sources and others through the CARES Act,” said Mhiripiri. “We had a great deal of support in April, May and June from our own constituents from Anthology’s members and supporters. We appealed to them to help us out at this time and people did.”

Anthology has continued to receive support from members and donors which has helped offset the loss of income from their programming and theater rentals. Eight core staff remain, while about twenty five of the theater staff — ushers, projectionists, managers, and box office ticket agents — have been furloughed. 

Syndicated, a movie theater, but also a bar and restaurant nestled in Bushwick, came to realize only after their doors shuttered how much their customers came for their movie screenings first and the booze and food second. Customers came to show their support for the neighborhood staple once they opened for outdoor dining, but it was only once Syndicated started screening outdoor movies that business really picked up. 

“The outdoor screenings have made it far more illuminating for us that our movie screenings are a main driver of our business, “ Tim Chung, Co-founder and Owner of Syndicated, said. “The food, drinks, and environment are an added bonus.”

Aside from their loyal audiences, the small operating size of these indie cinemas have been beneficial during these trying times. Whereas the large multiplexes are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, being independent allows these institutions to keep functioning because they can control their economies of scale. 

“We’re not so big and that is what helps us a lot, we’re a medium sized non-profit,” Mhiripiri said. “We’re not dependent on having the next Christopher Nolan sell the theater out. We have intentionally remained totally independent and done our programming as free from commercial concerns as we can.”




Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Life returns to the East Village

Quincy Walter May 5, 2021

Reopening for Ramadan

Hassan Abbas May 4, 2021

And the band played on

Xavier Bartaburu May 2, 2021

Queens residents mourn at Covid vigil

Annie Burky May 2, 2021

Floating for Free: COVID and the Staten Island Ferry

Trish Rooney May 2, 2021

COVID-19 has left many Black and Hispanic landlords in serious debt

Norah Hogan April 24, 2021

Village East movie theater reopens to the public

Inga Parkel April 13, 2021

Chinese adoptions halted by COVID

Inga Parkel March 24, 2021

Remote is the new workplace normal

Courtney Guarino March 24, 2021

One year of COVID-19 in New York City

Michelle Diaz March 16, 2021

COVID long haulers deal with lingering symptoms and doubt

Kaity Assaf March 5, 2021

Pandemic Weddings

Chuyan Jiang March 2, 2021

Pandemic fatigue 101

Chuyan Jiang February 28, 2021

Yankee Stadium becomes COVID-19 vaccine site for Bronx residents only

Michelle Diaz February 24, 2021

The queer community rallies behind their sacred spaces closed because of COVID-19

Inga Parkel February 23, 2021

Street vendors struggle as New Yorkers and tourists stay home

Norah Hogan February 13, 2021

Keeping the faith in COVID-19

Courtney Guarino February 3, 2021

Little Italy’s restaurants need indoor dining to survive pandemic

Michelle Diaz February 2, 2021

Stray pets find homes and love during pandemic

Inga Parkel February 1, 2021

No Actors, But the Show Goes On

James Pothen December 5, 2020

New York City, a place of refuge 

Edith Rousselot December 4, 2020

Commuting in a pandemic world

Michelle Diaz December 3, 2020

Battling food insecurities during a pandemic

Courtney Guarino December 3, 2020


Justin McGown December 3, 2020

Honk!: Cars earn a special spot in 2020

Luana Harumi December 3, 2020

Working out looks very different during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang December 2, 2020

One kitchen’s transformation in the age of isolation

Isabel Beer December 2, 2020

Nursing homes are filled with sadness and loss during pandemic shut down

Inga Parkel December 1, 2020

The show goes on

Norah Hogan December 1, 2020

Musicians deal with the reality of no live shows as covid takes center stage

Paola Michelle Ortiz December 1, 2020

 Black Friday’s Aftermath

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi November 30, 2020

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020