Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The State Theater, like most theaters, closed down at the pandemic's start. But Cinemapolis carries on with virtual movie screenings and programming.

February 16, 2021

Bring Your Own Popcorn: Cinemapolis Goes Virtual

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Cinemapolis locked its doors in March, but it hasn’t closed: The theater has gone virtual. 

The independent, non-profit cinema in downtown Ithaca continues to screen films for eager moviegoers, now in the safety of their own homes.

The theater focuses on small, independent and international films, and patrons can currently watch them on their own devices. Cinemapolis also continues to virtually host live talks and panel discussions.

Brett Bossard, Cinemapolis executive director, said screening virtual films is allowing the theater to continue engaging Ithacans and sharing films throughout the pandemic. But more than that, smaller films are now able to get more recognition and screen time. 

The small, independent film distributors that Bossard works with can’t access the same marketing budget as larger commercial competitors, he said. These distributors depend on movie theaters like Cinemapolis to circulate their films to the public.

“It’s allowing us to showcase films that are very small and might not attract a huge audience, but nonetheless are very important to have available for our community,” he said. Cinemapolis’s in-person theater has only five screening rooms, but movies can reach an unlimited number of screens and devices at home. 

Cinemapolis moviegoers pay about $12 per film. The price may be higher than streaming services on a monthly payment model because Cinemapolis shares profits with filmmakers, according to Bossard.

Unlike large movie theater chains, Cinemapolis responded rapidly to the March coronavirus shutdown. Bossard said Cinemapolis launched its virtual programming by the end of April, while chains took much longer to offer alternative screenings.

As a nonprofit, Cinemapolis doesn’t depend on big blockbuster releases to stay afloat. Cinemapolis’ nonprofit status made it more resilient when the pandemic shuttered theaters

“We’re better equipped to succeed in an environment of scarcity, because it’s kind of where we live all the time anyway,” he said. 

Now with reduced COVID-19 restrictions on movie theaters in Tompkins County, Cinemapolis plans to bring back some in-person screenings. By the end of February, the movie theater hopes to offer private movie parties for groups of 10 to 15 people. Online reservations will be made available in the coming weeks.

But even as Cinemapolis is set to open its doors again, virtual events are ongoing. On Saturday, the organization is hosting an online panel as part of Cornell’s celebration of Toni Morrison’s M.A. ’55 90th birthday. They are also offering a virtual screening of The Pieces I Am, the Toni Morrison Documentary, at no cost from Feb. 15 to Feb. 20.