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It seems like a simple question: When will movie theaters reopen in Austin and elsewhere, and when will we be able to see the traditional summer blockbusters?
But the answer is far from simple. In fact, most theater owners don't want to talk about it or make any promises. And that's probably to be expected, since no one knows whether the novel coronavirus that shut everything down in March will be causing trouble through the July holiday box-office bonanza.
Representatives of the Alamo Drafthouse, which operates six theaters in the Austin area, say they are not ready to talk about reopening plans and re-released an earlier statement, saying that any reopening will be "a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which will require extensive training."
Another large chain, Plano-based Cinemark, said the company is "currently working toward a mid-summer opening date, contingent upon health and safety regulations, as well as availability of studio content." The Cinemark representative said that the first major release currently scheduled is Christopher Nolan's "Tenet," set for July 17. But the representative said that it's important to note that a return to "normalcy" might span multiple months.
Cinemark's mention of "Tenet" is key. It's a major Warner Bros. release, with a budget of around $200 million, according to various industry sources, and if lots of theaters aren't in a position to be open by mid-July, then it might be pushed to a later date. And that would probably delay the opening of theaters even longer.
So far, Warner Bros. is sticking with the July 17 release date, but a new trailer released online in late May does not mention a specific date for a theatrical debut. And that has set off a new round of internet speculation about whether the movie will be pushed back to August or even later.
The key point is this: If Hollywood isn't releasing any big movies because of fears about the coronavirus, then theaters have little reason to reopen.
That's not to say that some theaters haven't bucked conventional wisdom. Evo Entertainment in Kyle and Santikos Entertainment in San Antonio have opened a few screens but with significant safety requirements and much-reduced capacity. But since Hollywood has stopped its new releases, they have reduced ticket prices and are showing older movies, like the Harry Potter series, "Dirty Dancing," "Grease" and some movies like "The Invisible Man" that were released just before the virus-related closures.
The Austin Film Society, which operates an art theater off of Middle Fiskville Road, is still closed, even though it's offering streaming of arthouse movies on its website, as are the Violet Crown and the Alamo Drafthouse.
A spokesperson for the AFS Cinema said that any reopening of the theater "is going to take careful consideration."
Cinemark representatives say they, like everyone else, are waiting to see what happens with the transmission of the virus as well as what Hollywood ultimately decides. Here's some of what they've compiled for what they hope will be the summer and fall seasons, although it's all subject to change:
|The Spongebob Movie||Aug. 7|
|A Quiet Place Part II||Sept. 4|
|The Conjuring||Sept. 11|
|Black Widow||Nov. 6|
|No Time to Die!||Nov. 27|
If studios keep pushing back films like "Tenet," then there will be a domino effect. And theater owners in Austin and across the country could face even more problems with rent and upkeep of properties.
Sky Cinemas in Dripping Springs has already closed—permanently. "With our business closed due to COVID and no revenue coming in, we were unable to pay our rent," the company said in a statement posted on the web in May.
Sky Cinemas was founded by Bill Banowsky, who also founded the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin, which eventually expanded to Santa Fe, N.M., and Charlottesville, Va.
"I don't think anyone knows when Hollywood will start releasing films again," Banowsky wrote in an email. "This is not a three-month problem, with the movie theater business opening up again in July and carrying on where it left off. There will be substantial lingering effects from this virus. It may take a year or more before the movie industry returns to pre-COVID levels of business."
About half of U.S. theaters operating under the Alamo Drafthouse name are franchises. And like Sky Cinemas, they're apparently feeling the economic pain.
On May 15, three Alamo franchise locations in the Phoenix area filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to Craig Paschich, majority owner of the franchises.
In a statement issued to the news media, Paschich said he hopes the theaters will reopen eventually. "Our intention is to use this opportunity to reorganize our finances and plan for the road ahead," the statement says. "We're also currently working closely with the corporate team in Austin to determine our next steps."
Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional comment.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone where a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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