By Kirra Grimes

LEONGATHA’S Stadium 4 Cinema will be reopening this month, with plans to operate seven days a week over the summer holidays, following the state government’s latest announcement on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Stadium 4’s General Manager Michael Kirk told the Sentinel-Times on Monday, November 9, he hadn’t been able to stop smiling since the announcement from Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday, which meant he and his team of dedicated staff could return to work after almost eight months of downtime.

Cinema staff James and Amanda are prepared for guests at Cinema 4 Leongatha.

Michael confirmed the venue would reopen with new safety measures in place “to enable the local cinema community to enjoy some normality with a movie experience in a safe environment”.

These include sanitising stations, increased cleaning, sneeze guards at the ticket box and candy bar, new entry and exit customer flow measures, reduced cinema capacity (one person per four square metres and a maximum of 25 per cent of seats filled), allocated seating with a three seat gap within rows between groups of movie goers, and no entry without a fitted face mask.

Opening hours were yet to be finalised but films such as Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster ‘Tenet,’ Australian comedy-drama ‘Rams,’ Liam Neeson action thriller ‘An Honest Thief,’ and family friendly titles including ‘Trolls World Tour’ would be on show from Thursday, November 26.

“We’re very, very happy; it’s been a very long wait,” Michael said.

“Especially for a business that effectively only used to close one day a year– Christmas day – having to be locked down for this extended period and all the uncertainty that brings… we’re very eager to open up and see all the familiar faces.

Audience members will be spaced apart, like cinema staff Amanda and James demonstrated.

“I’ve been general manager for 14 years and I’ve probably taken 20 days annual leave in total in that time – even on my honeymoon I was taking phone calls from staff – because you don’t take days off in small business! You work around the clock and devote everything to it.”

The family owned business will mark a significant milestone at the end of the month, but celebrations will be kept pretty low key, Michael said.

“At the end of November, it will be 21 years since a basketball stadium was converted into a cinema complex, but at this stage we’re focused on trying to get up and running – and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Closed since the end of March due to COVID-19 restrictions, the venue’s managers had been planning for an August reopening, however a surge in Victorian cases around that time quickly dashed those hopes.

Sunday was the first time Premier Andrews mentioned traditional indoor cinemas as part of the roadmap to reopening.

Previously, only open-air movie screenings and other outdoor entertainment and cultural venues had been given the green light to welcome patrons back, with indoor venues in both metro and regional areas left in the dark on their futures until last weekend.

Michael said cinemas provided much more than entertainment in country communities, acting as an “outlet” for people of all ages.

“A lot of people that have disabilities come in with their carers and that gives their parents or primary carers some respite and some time; but with the cinema gone, that option evaporated.

“A lot of people don’t see that side of it but it’s a very important side of it.

“Then you’ve got the elderly couples that don’t want to travel too far but still want to get dressed up and have a night out – it’s very important to them and their families.”