Welcome to austonia.com, a new local news site for Austin. We're local people producing local stories. 100% free for news, trends, controversies, celebrities. Sign up for daily updates to get our latest stories in your inbox.
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.
- Blue Starlite Drive-In theater sees booming business in social ... ›
- Fabric face coverings will be 'longstanding requirement' in Austin ... ›
- Restaurants and retailers, movies and museums: Some life returns ... ›
- Alamo Drafthouse will require masks when it reopens - austonia ›
- Alamo Drafthouse shares safety procedures for reopening - austonia ›
- Alamo Drafthouse to lay off furloughed workers - austonia ›
- Private theater screenings offered at Alamo Drafthouse - austonia ›
- "Tenet" opens at Austin movie theaters, drawing U.S. fans - austonia ›
- Regal Cinemas shuts down all locations after major film delays - austonia ›
- Austin Film Society launches virtual streaming service - austonia ›
- Don't miss these 7 Christmas movie showings in Austin - austonia ›
- "Silk Road" biopic highlights a tale of true crime in Austin - austonia ›
Austin FC's opening match at LAFC has already gotten plenty of buzz, and not just because the team will be playing its first-ever match. The opener will also see two famous fans pitted against each other: Will Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey.
Since he joined the club as a part-time owner in 2019, McConaughey hasn't been quiet about going Verde. The Austin icon has been a hypeman for the team on the Jimmy Kimmel show, spoken with MLS Commissioner Don Garber at SXSW and is vocal about the club on Twitter.
On Tuesday, McConaughey talked all things Austin FC from what appeared to be an Airstream.
"We've been talking about this," McConaughey said. "We've been building this brick by brick. We understand it's Verde, it's listos, but now it's live."
"I just got some chills saying that," McConaughey added.
This weekend will put the club to the test for the first time against LAFC, which also happens to be part-owned by a big Hollywood name. Comedian and actor Will Ferrell will be on the other side of the pitch come Saturday, and he's ready to start a rivalry.
After talking to McConaughey about both teams, Ferrell told Spectrum News he's excited to watch his team play the so-called "Austin Cacti" this season.
"I can only hope for a rivalry," Ferrell said. "I think Austin is going to be a fantastic market for a brand new soccer team, and I can't wait to be there when LAFC plays the 'Austin Cactuses.'"
Talked to Will Ferrell about his connection w/ @McConaughey as @MLS owners. He welcomes a @LAFC rivalry w/ @AustinFC and has his own nickname for the team. 🌵⚽️ @SpecNewsATX #DownhillMovie pic.twitter.com/yTPfTzVchM
— Victor Diaz (@VictorOchoDiaz) February 14, 2020
Now with five days to go, McConaughey said that he and Ferrell had been having a "war with words" over the match and are planning on placing bets before game time.
It's not the first time the two have found themselves on opposing sides of a sport. Back in 2018, Ferrell made his way to Austin to see USC football duke it out with the Longhorns (psst,—UT won.)
McConaughey and Austin FC are hoping to see yet another loss for Ferrell as they head to their first game on Saturday, but the match will be quite the challenge.
The MLS set the opening schedule for more than fame; the newly-formed Austin FC has been one of the most talked-about teams this preseason, and LAFC is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
Head Coach Josh Wolff has said LAFC has one of the best offenses in the league.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who has worn the captain's armband already for his newest team. Forward Rodney Redes may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee, but if he does, he'll be a force to be reckoned with as well.
Austin FC's inaugural match will be nationally broadcast on FOX and FOX Deportes and will be featured on Alt 97.5 FM.
- Matthew McConaughey featured on the cover of People Magazine ... ›
- Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey talks preserving Austin ... ›
- Austin FC fans to host Matthew McConaughey in memers-only Q n A ... ›
- Austin FC, MLS release full 2021 schedule - austonia ›
- Austin FC ends La Copita with 5-1 win over San Antonio FC - austonia ›
- Austin FC to play at Q2 Stadium on June 19, season opener against ... ›
- Before kickoff: the ultimate guide to all things Austin FC - austonia ›
- McConauhgey and Don Garber say ATX will be the next big soccer ... ›
Starting Monday, Austin voters will decide whether to reinstate a ban on sitting, lying and camping in certain areas of the city. Proposition B is one of eight proposed city code or charter amendments on the May 1 ballot, but it is perhaps the most contentious.
Spearheaded by the political action committee Save Austin Now, Prop B is a direct response to City Council's 2019 decision to overturn a 23-year-old ban on such activities. This is the second time the group has tried to get the issue on the ballot since the first petition was ruled invalid by the county clerk for duplicate signatures and other issues last year. Homeless advocates campaigned against the ban, arguing that it criminalized homelessness and led to citations and tickets that prevented homeless people from accessing housing, employment and other resources. Since then, the city's homeless population has grown in size and visibility.
SAN, advocates and council members generally agree that the situation is untenable, but they disagree about the ban's merit. Austinites who are directly impacted—including people who live near camps, downtown business owners and homeless residents—feel similarly embattled, telling Austonia that, regardless of how they plan to vote, not enough is being done to house the homeless.
Word on the street
Lisa Novak bought a condo in the East Riverside neighborhood in 2013, drawn in by its affordability and Guerrero Park. She attributes the increase in camping along the Riverside Drive median to council's decision to repeal the ban. "It turned into open season," she said.
Lisa Novak took this photo of campers along the Riverside Drive median, near where she lives. (Lisa Novak)
Novak worries about the recent spate of fires and how camps affect area business owners and incoming tourists. After her husband witnessed a violent exchange between two panhandlers, the couple stopped walking to their neighborhood H-E-B. She will vote for Prop B and disagrees with advocates who say it criminalizes homelessness. "I'm sorry, but as a member of society there are certain rules and regulations," she said.
Kevin Ludlow's Windsor Park home sits right behind a long-time homeless camp along Little Tannehill Branch Creek. He estimates he has spent hundreds of hours talking to city staff, council members, nonprofits and police about trash and safety concerns.
Ludlow is undecided on Prop B. He thinks a ban will address these issues, but he also feels police could be more responsive to reports of theft, vandalism and other crimes without penalizing campers who are otherwise law-abiding. "There's no winning hand, and I feel it's by design," he said.
Longtime Downtown business Kruger's Diamond Jewelers often has homeless residents camping outside the entryway. (Emma Freer)
David Kruger, fourth-generation owner of Kruger's Diamond Jewelers on Congress Avenue, is similarly ambivalent. Although homeless residents often camp out in his entryway, his issue is with city leadership, whom he feels are incapable of developing solutions. "I'm probably going to vote in favor of it, I guess, but I'd feel better if there was another item that addressed the problem," he said, comparing Prop B to trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.
Christopher Carr, a member of the Austin Homeless Advisory Committee who has been intermittently homeless since graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in the 1990s, is more decisive. A poet who loves opera and has bipolar disorder, he camps near the intersection of 15th and San Antonio streets. When the ban was in effect, he was often harassed by police he says. "You felt like you might have a few seconds before the cops showed up (if you sat down on a sidewalk)," he said.
Christopher Carr attends a meeting of the Challenger Street Newspaper, for which he is a contributor and distributor, outside of City Hall on Sunday. (Emma Freer)
Since the ban was lifted, Carr feels Austin's housed residents have turned against the homeless: "If you don't like seeing all these tents everywhere, why don't you not like the country where this level of indigency exists?"
A stopgap measure
Save Austin Now argues that repealing the ban has adversely impacted public safety, residents and businesses and left homeless people to live in unsafe conditions. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association and SAN board member, added that the council vote left residents out of the process. "For me, the big issue is 'let the citizens vote,'" he said. "If the citizens vote down Prop B, we'll live with it."
But the May 1 election is likely not the end of this debate. Texas lawmakers are considering a statewide ban on public camping in a clear rebuke of local policy.
Chris Harris, director of Texas Appleseed's Criminal Justice Project and an activist who helped overturn the ban in 2019, argued that the decision has made homelessness more visible, leading to greater investment by the city and nonprofits. "No matter what happens with Prop B or with these bills at the Legislature, our community can't forget about this issue," he said. "We decriminalized homelessness not because we saw it as a solution to homelessness but because we thought it was (an issue of) right-or-wrong."
- Austin City Council's homeless camp housing plan moves ahead ... ›
- Video shows 'massive problems' with homeless camp in Austin ... ›
- Calls, counts and camps: Homelessness in Austin by the numbers ... ›
- Save Austin Now relaunches petition to reinstate camping ban ... ›
- Texas Senate considers statewide homeless camping ban - austonia ›
University of Texas students can expect a "near normal" fall semester this year.
The plan, sent to the Daily Texan via email from communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Harrison, is to hold 91.7% of classes in person, 4.2% of classes in a hybrid format and the remaining 3.1% of classes will stay online.
The announcement is a stark increase from last fall, during which over 60% of classes were online, 24% were hybrid and only 16% were in-person. President Jay Hartzell said last month he expects the upcoming semester to look more similar to fall 2019 than fall 2020.
The new schedule is not set in stone—Harrison said UT will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on campus and that safety of the community is a top priority.
"The University's decisions are based on the latest data and information available," Harrison said. "If conditions change, we will continue to keep the safety of our community a top priority and adjust as needed."
- UT professor played role in Pfizer and Moderna's COVID vaccines ... ›
- 95 UT Austin students test positive for COVID ahead of game ... ›
- UT Austin reports 72 student COVID cases after first week - austonia ›