Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

Students enter Willard Straight Hall, the home building of Cornell Cinema on Central Campus.

October 27, 2021

Cornell Cinema Reels In Students After Reopening

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After closing its doors for a year, Cornell Cinema has reopened this semester as a place to relax, unwind and celebrate the world of film.

With many COVID guidelines in place to ensure a safe and comfortable viewing experience, movie attendees are required to wear masks throughout the entirety of the showing, provide a Cornell ID or proof of vaccination and practice respectful distancing. The concessions stand is also closed, as per the University guidelines.

The theater currently operates at 75 percent capacity, filling 255 of its 340 seats. 

Anthony Pena ’25 saw the showing of the Spanish movie The Hidden City on Tuesday night, and he expressed comfort with the cinema’s safety precautions. 

“Everything was fine,” Pena said. “Everybody was wearing their masks.” 

Mary Fessenden, the cinema’s director of 25 years, aims to bring in attendees with a wide range of movie interests and tastes in the cinema’s offerings. She does so by researching and curating movies with input from cinema staff, Cornell faculty and student clubs. Often, she collaborates with professors to choose titles that interact with course material. 

“There are so many ways in which film can be used to deal with history, to deal with contemporary topics, social issues, to represent different cultures,” Fessenden said.

According to Fessenden the theater attracts various students and local residents — about 75 percent of attendees are affiliated with Cornell, and Ithaca locals make up 15 percent of total attendance. This ratio varies somewhat, however, depending on the film.

Despite the wide range of films, reasonable prices and local venue, sales have been down after the pandemic. In 2019, 6,000 tickets were sold between the start of the semester and the end of October. In 2021, only 5,000 were sold by Oct. 25. Fessenden and moviegoers hope to see greater turnout in the future.

“Being able to actually sit around with people and just enjoy the atmosphere is a true pleasure and what I hope to see in the future,” Pena said. 

The film schedule is available on the Cornell Cinema website, Campus Groups portal, CU events calendar and through their newsletter. Tickets are available to purchase online as well as in person, and Fessenden highly encourages students to buy the All-Access Pass.

The pass allows free entry to unlimited showings per semester, and it costs $10 for graduate students, $20 for undergraduates and $30 for the general public. 

This Halloween weekend, the Cinema will feature a horror comedy titled Shaun of the Dead. It will also be giving discounted tickets to those in costumes and will provide treats after the showing. 

“It can be such an enriching experience,” said Fessenden. “It’s amazing to me still after all these years working here how profound an experience you can have while watching a film.”