The pandemic and online streaming services challenge movie theaters; local cinema giving back to community

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PERRY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with online streaming services now challenges the future of movie theaters. Despite this, a locally owned theater thanks its community for the support with a film festival.

Utah’s entertainment industry took a $75 million dollar hit last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Northern Utah theater Walker Cinemas affected by Hollywood’s film-making delays and COVID-19 restrictions.

“People wanna get out and get out of reality, but with the pandemic and stuff, it’s really hard,” said Kelly Walker, the owner of Walker Cinemas. “Hollywood totally shut down, no product being put out is really, really tough.”

“Our biggest [theater] seating 290,” said Connor Bennion, a manager at Walker Cinemas. “But with the pandemic, you cut it in half down to 145 and then it’s the concept of social distancing.”

Walker Cinemas’ theaters closed down for two months at the start of the pandemic. Three of the four theaters are now open.

Walker said online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have also changed the game.

“Right now, we’re competing with video on demand; you can see it in the theater or see it at home,” he said. “In my opinion, there won’t be as many movies being released in the future. They’ll just be hopefully the big blockbusters that people want to see.”

Walker believes the theater experience isn’t going away, but it could come at a cost.

“Like they said in the 80s, VHS is going to kill the theaters. Where are we now?” Walker said. “We’re striving – or we were striving. Theaters will still be around. The question is, ‘What will the price be?’”

This family-run business in Northern Utah has had all the support it could get, in what they said is one of its toughest years yet.

“Longing to see the people lined up all the way out the door. But also, that sense of hope that we have the greatest community we could ask for,” Connor Bennion said.

“It was important for us to give back to our community because they had been there since day one,” said Shawn Bennion, the event coordinator for the cinema.

The theater will host its second community film festival May 17th to 19th at Walker Cinemas in Perry.

The community is invited to attend for free.

“Everything’s meant to be about the community and how can we get them involved and bring them back to the theater and show that it’s a safe place to be,” Shawn Bennion said.

Film submissions are due Sunday, May 9th. Festival winners will receive cash prizes and their film will be played on the big screen.

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