Cinemas in Metro Manila closed for nearly two years since the pandemic reached the Philippines in early 2020. That means Filipinos couldn’t see the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian lead in theaters, or decide for themselves if Tenet really is better in IMAX. At least, up until last month. After various stages of lockdown, cinemas in the sprawling Philippine capital are finally open again.
The pandemic isn’t over, and not everyone is comfortable sitting in a confined space for over an hour, but the call of the big screen is too powerful for some to resist. Some missed the cozy chairs with raisable armrests, while others craved being in a cold, dark room with a giant screen.
With theaters insisting on social distancing (some with the help of cardboard standees of movie stars) and banning food and snacks, some film buffs are now reacquainting themselves with their favorite pastime. Below, they share what it was like to go to the cinemas again.
Mel Alcaraz, 43, Podcast Producer
What’s the significance of watching films in a cinema for you?
Mel: One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Return of the Jedi on the big screen for the first time, so that movie—and moviegoing in general—is so sacred to me. We have Netflix and HBO and all these streamers you can watch at home, sure, but nothing beats the magic of a communal experience in a dark cinema, watching a huge ass screen, hearing sounds that can vibrate throughout your body, and zero distractions. The cinema really transports me to another world free from deadlines, bills, and stupid Viber chain messages.
“The cinema really transports me to another world free from deadlines, bills, and stupid Viber chain messages.”
How did you cope while cinemas were closed? Did you do anything to level up the home movie experience?
Luckily, we have access to all sorts of streamers at home. I upgraded our internet bandwidth and got a soundbar for better audio, basic stuff like that. But without big ticket movie releases, I turned to K-dramas, which is another interview in itself. The movies I wish I had seen in a cinema, but I had to see at home, include Greyhound starring Tom Hanks, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, and Godzilla vs. Kong.
Did you really go to the cinema on a workday? Can you tell us about that?
I was determined to watch Dune at the cinema. I refused to watch the trailers, read the reviews, or watch it on HBO Max. It was big screen or bust. I mean, it’s Denis Villeneuve, one of my favorite directors of all time, and my boy crush Timothée Chalamet. When our local cinema finally released its schedule, there was no hesitation. I booked tickets online for the first screening on opening day.
Sai Versailles, 26, Freelance Journalist
Do you normally watch films with people or do you like going by yourself?
Sai: I like going to the cinema by myself. I lived in London for seven years, and the culture there is quite different in terms of moviegoing. I also worked in a cinema, so I had free access several times a month. Because I liked watching films a lot, it didn’t matter who I went with or whether I went by myself. Just the act of watching the film was important to me.
Were you still watching films while cinemas were closed? Did you overcompensate in any way?
I totally overcompensated because prior to the pandemic, going to the cinema had become a routine. Last year, I watched over 126 films, and this year I watched 141. My friends and I also organized Discord screenings, which was a ritual during the early days of the pandemic.
What was it like binge watching movies from home?
I don’t have the concentration for it at home. I’m heavily distracted, especially since I work from home. I just moved to a new place and my sound system isn’t that good. When it comes to the routine of it, I feel like I just need to have that restriction in my senses to be able to really pay attention to the film that I’m watching.
Quintin Cu-Unjieng, 30, Filmmaker
How did you feel throughout that long period without cinemas?
Quintin: Like I had lost my church.
When you finally stepped into a cinema, did you find the experience jarring in any way?
The only thing that was jarring was when I caught Dune in an IMAX theater the other week—my senses haven’t been present to that kind of onslaught in quite some time, but I was very happy to be slapped in such a way.
How many movies have you watched in a cinema since then? And what other movies are you planning on sitting in a theater for in the near future?
At the moment, it’s only been Titane and Dune. But I’ll probably see Spencer too, and am looking forward to seeing some QCinema films as well.
Miguel Nacianceno, 42, Photographer
How did you feel throughout the long period without cinemas?
Miguel: I know I missed it a lot, as one of the few communal experiences I really enjoy, but I also didn’t die—literally and figuratively—not being able to see movies in the theater. A lot of other things were occupying my mental space. Like the pandemic.
“I know I missed it a lot, as one of the few communal experiences I really enjoy.”
Can you describe how you felt going back to the cinema?
I remember savoring most of what I missed: a big dark room with comfy chairs to watch movies in. I remember laughing hysterically, though, when they showed the anti-piracy video. Like, after two years of trying to survive a deadly plague, I’m mandated to watch this lame public service announcement? I missed eating my movie snacks, though, since eating inside the cinema is still not allowed.
We’re still in a pandemic. Did you feel safe while watching the movie?
For some reason, I did not feel too apprehensive about watching Spencer, in particular, in the cinemas. It’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any big-budget franchise. True enough, there were only two other viewers. And, to be fair, the mall showed a video that explained that their staff is vaccinated, that the cinemas were renovated to bring in fresh air all the time, and other safety measures.
John Gerard Omo, 34, Dentist
Do you have any cinema rituals?
John: I have a post-movie ritual, which is me trying to find out everything I can about a movie, especially if I really loved it. Like, I would watch YouTube video analyses, trivia, or “Things you may have missed” videos—I love watching those. I want to know everything about a movie, from who did the cinematography, to what other works they did. All those little details that make a movie special, I’m really attracted to.
What was the first movie you watched since cinemas reopened?
Dune. I’m a fan of the director. I’ve watched Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and those are two movies I really enjoyed. So when I found out he was directing Dune, I thought, I had to watch this movie and I had to watch it in the cinema. For the longest time, I thought it wouldn’t happen because of quarantine and lockdowns, but when I heard the news that cinemas would open again, I couldn’t miss this chance.
After nearly two years of watching movies at home, did your attention span change at all?
A little bit. I’m a fan of slow burn movies, and usually, they keep my attention. Dune is a slow movie, and there were parts where I felt like I was losing my focus a bit.
Jappy Agoncillo, 26, Artist
Can you describe how you felt, from the build-up before entering the theater to the moment the lights turned back on?
Jappy: Just very excited to be back. The too-cold-for-comfort air, the louder-than-you’re-used-to sound, the chairs that are somewhat comfy but not really, and just walking through that hallway entrance, seeing the big screen again and just feeling in your heart: “We’re back!” It was a great feeling.
Any tips for people who plan to visit a cinema again?
I’d say, to feel safe, pick an odd time. Like lunch on a weekday or morning on a weekend, when families and groups aren’t going to cinemas yet because it’s too early or because they’re having lunch. Choose a cinema you love, are comfortable with, and you trust the quality of. If you’re gonna go out and risk watching a movie, you might as well get your money’s worth, too.
How many movies have you watched in a cinema since? And what other movies are you planning on sitting in a theater for in the near future?
Only two: Dune and Eternals. I’m waiting to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Black Widow, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. I think they have to be enticing enough for me to go out and see. As a Marvel fan, the next few releases are can’t miss-es, especially in cinemas.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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