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The show goes on (remotely) at local movie theaters

Elvia Verdugo

The marquee board at The Loft Cinema on Speedway Boulevard advertises its online content on Monday, June 29. During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Loft has begun offering online movie streaming.

With movie theaters closed due to Gov. Doug Ducey’s latest executive order on June 29 to help slow the spread of COVID-19, local movie theaters have learned to adapt by providing entertainment from the safety of your home or vehicle.

The Loft Cinema:

The Loft Cinema, an independent art-house movie theater, has been a Tucson staple since its opening in 1972. Its iconic marquee continues to light up Speedway Boulevard despite closing its doors in March.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Loft to close to the public on March 15, the Loft relies on virtual streaming to provide entertainment to its loyal patrons and to financially survive the economic downturn of the pandemic, according to Jeff Yanc, the Loft’s program director.

“When we closed, we had no idea what we were going to be doing in terms of showing movies or revenue. So it was kind of a scary moment,” Yanc said. “And then virtual cinema started happening with certain independent [movie] studio distributors offering these virtual cinema films for independent theaters to show. And that was a lifesaver because it allowed us to keep showing new films and to keep engaging our audience.”

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The Loft stays true to its independent film roots by continuing to show a variety of films in its Virtual Theater such as “John Lewis: Good Trouble” and “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things,”  according to The Loft Cinema’s website.

“We really look to have a wide diversity of films. So, films from a wide range of countries, films that represent a wide range of voices and representations, whether that’s African-American, Latino, Jewish or LGBTQ. We try to program films that speak to different demographics and different age groups,” Yanc said.

Ticket prices for the Virtual Theater range from $6 to $12 with most films available to stream for 48 hours and some films up to seven days upon purchase, according to The Loft’s website.

“The Loft Cinema will be splitting the revenue with the film’s distributor 50/50. This money will go directly to our employees and essential operational costs while our theatre is closed,” The Loft’s website says.

Along with streaming movies in the Virtual Theater, the Loft is hosting the annual “The Loft Kids Fest (At Home)” from July 17 to July 26. 

“It’s going to be a virtual festival, and it’s still free,” Yanc said. “So, we’re basically streaming free [kids] movies. And then we’re making our own original content to go with them, like crafting videos and games that we’re filming that people can watch before they watch the movies.”

In addition to the Kids Fest, the Loft Cinema offers the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Shorts Tour, which is available to stream starting July 24.

The Loft currently offers contact-free curbside concessions on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Patrons can choose from eight options that include The Loft Cinema’s organic popcorn, Tucson Tamale Company’s tamales or local brews from Dragoon Brewery. Prices range from $8 to $35, according to the Loft Cinema’s website.

The Loft Cinema hopes to reopen its doors as soon as it’s safe and possible to do so, according to Yanc. 

“We just want to remind people that we are still here and that we do plan on reopening. It’s going to take a while before we’re back up to normal operations, but we will get there. I’m very optimistic that, you know, the future is going to happen and it’s going to be good,” Yanc said.

Streaming virtually isn’t the only movie option during the pandemic, moviegoers can stay entertained by watching feature films in the safety of their vehicle. Two local drive-ins are offering different movie-going experiences with classic drive-in nostalgia and high-end movie screening equipment.

Cactus Drive-In Theatre:

Cactus Drive-In, also known as Cactus Carpool Cinema, brought the drive-in movie theater experience back to Tucson in 2011 after other local drive-ins, such as the De Anza Drive-In, closed in 2009, according to Cactus Drive-In’s website.

Drive-in theaters have recently made a comeback due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing procedures in place. 

“We’re parking cars six-feet-apart from each other. That way if people want to sit outside of their car or in the bed of their truck, it keeps them socially distanced. Plus we wipe down high touch surfaces such as the restrooms and our staff is required to wear masks,” Tyler Espe, co-owner of Cactus Drive-In said.

The drive-in located at the Medella Vina Ranch shows a variety of classic and new movies with their 40-foot inflatable movie screen. Moviegoers are able to listen to the movies by tuning in on their radios to FM 103.1, according to Cactus Drive-In’s website.

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Ticket prices are $22 in advance or $25 at the door per vehicle. July’s movie titles include, “Spaceballs,” “Grease” and “Jurassic Park,” according to Cactus Drive-In’s website.

Cactus Drive-In brings back the classic drive-in experience to local moviegoers, with some modern-day benefits such as parking attendants and food truck concessions, according to Espe.

“You can bring younger children and pets with you. You have a little bit more freedom rather than just sitting there and being quiet. We like to invite food trucks to attend our events. So, the food trucks that show up are different every single day,” Espe said. “It’s more about the experience when you go to the drive-in versus the movie theater.”

El Toro Flicks: Cinema Carpool Experience:

El Toro Flicks opened locations in Downtown Tucson and Oro Valley in May with a determination to bring a new type of drive-in movie theater experience to the Tucson community.

Despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, El Toro Flicks continues to provide a safe and entertaining environment on Tuesdays through Sundays for local moviegoers. 

“We maintain about eight feet between cars and we have dedicated personnel to our bathroom. So, every time someone goes into the actual bathroom, it gets cleaned right away,” Ramiro Bojorquez, a partner for El Toro Flicks said. “That’s what sets us apart from other drive-ins.”

Moviegoers are able to experience their favorite movies on El Toro Flicks’ state of the art 40-by-20 foot LED screen, according to Bojorquez. 

“It’s not a projected screen, which means our colors and our brightness are way brighter than a regular projector screen. So, we can actually start our movies earlier because the sun doesn’t have to set in order for us to play our movies,” Bojorquez said.

The Downtown Tucson location offers radio rentals or surround sound if moviegoers choose to sit outside of their vehicles, according to Bojorquez.

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Along with high-end movie screening equipment, El Toro Flicks bring a variety of food trucks and concessions to the drive-in to create a unique movie-going experience, according to Bojorquez.

“We try to engage the community and try to help out the community with these new changes because there are no more events. So, food trucks are lacking in business,” Bojorquez said. “We’re trying to encourage people to come and eat with the food trucks that we have here.”

Patrons are also able to bring outside food and drinks into the drive-in, according to El Toro Flicks’ website.

Ticket prices range from $20.90 for a car pass which accommodates two to eight people to $35.90 for a car pass, snacks and a radio rental, according to El Toro Flicks’ website.

Movie titles vary between the two locations, some of July’s movie titles include “Jurassic Park,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Space Jam” according to Tablelist.

Bojorquez is happy to serve the Tucson area as well as receiving positive reviews from the community.

“We mostly try to work with the community for the community and we’re getting a great response from everybody trying to help out,” Bojorquez said. “This [community outreach] provides a very different experience than other movie drive-ins.”

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