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Movie Theaters Reading, AMC, Regal, The Lot Reopen

Reading Grossmont screens Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ on 70mm

Photo by Beth Accomando

Reading Cinema's head of projection and sound, John Sittig, stands by the reel that the 70mm film print of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" shipped on.

Indoor movie theaters are reopening at reduced capacity and with new safety guidelines. But Reading Grossmont Cinemas hopes that screening Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" on 70mm will lure cinephiles out of quarantine to its venue.

Reported by Beth Accomando , Video by Andi Dukleth

John Sittig has been projecting film for 46 years, and as Reading Cinema’s director of projection and sound he is thrilled that movie theaters can finally reopen. But what makes him even more excited is that Reading Grossmont will be playing Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet."

"We're one of the very few theaters in the United States that actually is showing it in 70mm film," Sittig proudly boasted. "That is Christopher Nolan's favorite process. He makes his movies using film. He edits them using film and we have one of the few 70mm prints in the country."

That print is 16,000 feet or roughly three miles of film. So while a digital drive containing a film might cost a studio a few bucks (and when wiped clean be reused), a 70mm print of a two-and-a-half-hour film can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Sittig is proud that Grossmont has hosted 70mm screenings of films such as Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful 8" and Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." But he does want people to understand that a film print will look different.

"So this film is going to look a little bit different than what you're used to with digital," he explained. "Because film to me has a much warmer feel to it. But it's not a razor sharp like digital, which I think almost looks a little bit artificial at some times. So they still have CGI effects and all that kind of stuff. But film has, like I said, a warmth to them that is different than digital."

A warmth that Sittig and many cinephiles find magical.

The 500-seat 70mm venue boasts a 55- by 30-foot screen. Grossmont Cinemas also has a 600-seat Titan XC house as well as other cinemas of various sizes but they are all digital projection. For all its cinemas, Reading is keeping a minimum three seats between patrons and only selling every other row in order to abide by the reduced capacity and social distancing requirements of reopening during this coronavirus pandemic. But Sittig is just happy to be back in the projection booth.

Photo by Beth Accomando

The 70mm print of "tenet" on the projection platter ready to be screened.

"I'm actually projecting here a couple of shifts because I grew up with film, not digital," Sittig said. "And film is tangible to me where putting a hard drive in a server isn't. And so I just really love to thread up to run the movie, to keep checking the picture during the show, checking to make sure we are scratching the printer, getting the print dirty or whatever. And it's a it's a real joy for me."

Seeing films on a big screen are a real joy for avid cinephile Gary Dexter. He went to see "Tenet" at Regal Cinemas in Escondido on Wednesday. He noted that some people arrived without masks and after informed of the mask policy left.

"It was maybe a quarter full auditorium with two seats between people and I looked around and everybody had masks on," Dexter said. "So I thought on the whole, people behaved responsibly and better than I might have expected. Given the circumstances and the fact that, like yourself, I'm a rabid cinephile, I thought it was acceptable, in fact, so much so that I'm going to see I Armando Iannucci's 'The Personal History of David Copperfield' tomorrow in the same theater under the same conditions."

Dexter, who is also the geeky Star Wars fan I went to Galaxy's Edge with, said that "Tenet" was simply a film that demanded being seen in a cinema.

"I really didn't want to have to see a big scale movie as Nolan tends to make in a genre that I'm particularly interested in on a streaming service. Whereas, for example, I recently watched the new 'Bill and Ted Face the Music' streaming and I didn't feel that it was much less viewing it that way. So given that I think I'll lose my mind without being able to go see movies in a theater within the next few months, I'm willing to put up with this," Dexter said. "In particular with my passions I'm excited to see Bond in November."

Sittig said, "I think the public is really anxious to get out of the house. I believe that most of them are getting a little bit tired of watching movies on their iPad, and they miss that communal experience that you get by sitting in an auditorium and hearing the reactions of other people. And so even though we're running at reduced capacities and so forth we're very happy to be offering a service to people who want to see movies the way they were meant to be shown."

Reading has a few other changes such as plexiglass between patrons and staff at the snack bar, new air filtration system for the building, hand sanitizer stations throughout the lobby and no more self-serve concessions. Other policy changes include no cash accepted for ticket or concession purchases, continual wiping down of all well used areas, and nightly cleaning of all theater seats.

Regal, AMC, Cinepolis and The Lot are also reopening. Landmark and Arclight have yet to announce reopening dates. Each theaters policies may be slightly different so check the venue's websites for specific information. And with high temperatures coming, people may be more willing to return to air conditioned cinemas.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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