After a difficult year for exhibitors, Palace Cinemas CEO Benjamin Zeccola is pleased to end 2020 on a positive note with the official opening of Coburg’s Pentridge Cinema next week.

Housed within the city’s historic Pentridge prison site, the new venue comprises 15 screens and has the capacity to hold 1,100 patrons.

The opening is the culmination of a seven-year development process for Palace Cinemas, including almost three years of construction.

Australia’s largest independent cinema group faced fresh challenges this year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of its locations, with about 550 staff affected by the shut down.

Pentridge Cinema

“It is a tremendous privilege to open a new cinema in such a vibrant part of Melbourne, with such a vast and diverse catchment area,” Zeccola said.

“It has been a (lime-)light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, that we’ve watched getting brighter as we pushed on throughout the lockdown.

“Now we are basking in the glow of a radiant new cinema, serving delighted patrons who have told us how glad they are to have a cinema nearby.”

He added that capacity had been a “fundamental issue” Palace Cinemas since the reopening of its venues. In Victoria, where cinemas have only been back open since November 12, theatres are capped at a maximum of 150 patrons, subject to social distancing density quotients.

“Palace is well-positioned because of our curation of film festivals and international cinema.

“However, we still need more films which will come as conditions improve here and overseas.”

The Pentridge Cinema will host the Australian premiere of The Dry, in partnership with Roadshow Films.

Starring Eric Bana and directed by Robert Connolly, the film is based on Jane Harper’s international and award-winning best-selling novel.

Bana plays Aaron Falk, a Federal Agent who returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral, forcing him to navigate a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl.

The film forms part of what is expected to be a strong start to the year for Australian cinema, together with Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom on January 21, a Roadshow stablemate.

Zeccola said both films demanded to be experienced with an audience.

“Aussies love great movies, so we expect The Dry and Penguin Bloom to be exceptionally strong at the box office,” he said.

“They are what Australian (and hopefully global) audiences want in the sense of being entertaining, authentic, and moving.

“I am very excited to see the country flock to them both.”

Speaking to IF back in March, Zeccola prophesied a “tipping point” which unlocked pent-up demand for cinema, noting the industry needed to work together with the government to “get the timing right”.

Reflecting on the comments, he said the supply of new films would be a catalyst for demand to flow through cinemas.

“Australians love the shared social experience of cinema, just as they love dining out in their amazing cities and towns.

Eric Bana in new film ‘The Dry’.

“Pent up demand is there, and it will be released as the supply of new films increases.

“Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has performed well, as have many other films, despite capacities being limited by over 75 per cent.”

Other films scheduled to be screened at Pentridge Cinema include Wonder Woman 1984, Promising Young Woman, The 355, Nomadland, How to Be a Good Wife, High Ground, and Music by Sia, along with family-friendly favourites such as Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Connected, Superintelligence and The Croods: A New Age.

Pentridge Cinema will open with staggered session times to avoid unnecessary congestion in foyers, and incorporate checkerboard seating and increased air ventilation (cycling new fresh-air to match the occupancy of each cinema six times per hour).

Hand-sanitiser stations will be available at cinema entrances and points of sale, along with contactless payment and online bookings with in-built contact tracing collection.

Palace Pentridge Cinema opens December 11. More info here.

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