AUSTIN (KXAN) — At last, the Austin Film Society (AFS) is dusting off its projectors and warming up its popcorn machines. Its iconic cinema reopened Thursday, about five months after Gov. Greg Abbott announced businesses across the state could operate at 100% capacity.

“We wanted to open as soon as we could, once the community was ready to return to the cinema,” Holly Herrick, head of film and creative media for AFS, said. “We had a lot of milestones to get through.”

People gather by the bar at the cinema
People gather at the Austin Film Society Cinema for the first time in 16 months (Courtesy: AFS)

Herrick said aside from getting to a place where they felt movie-goers and staff were going to be safe from COVID-19, they also needed time to hire those staff members and fundraise money.

She said with those hoops to jump through, reopening happened right on time. Doors opened Thursday after a long 16 months. AFS estimates they had more than 200 people show up.

“The energy is so amazing, it’s hard to even explain it,” Herrick said. “We have people who were regulars before the closure who arrived early just to hang out in the lobby.”

Austin Film society scheduled shows
The Austin Film Society Cinema officially reopens Thursday, here’s the early movie lineup (Courtesy: Austin Film Society Cinema website)

During the pandemic, AFS worked to connect with movie-lovers virtually. They posted ways people could participate from home and stay involved, including releasing streaming recommendations from directors that could be viewed from the living room.

Started in 1985 by Dazed and Confused director and Austinite Richard Linklater, AFS is the only nonprofit art cinema in Austin. Unlike Cinemark or AMC, the AFS Cinema does not show blockbuster movies. 

“It’s really about going out and discovering something new. We’re just excited to be open and to share this really special place,” Herrick said.

Staying COVID-19 safe

The Austin Film Society Cinema was scheduled to reopen, coincidentally, the same day Austin Public Health made its announcement that case numbers and hospitalizations were on the rise.

The cinema will be following APH guidelines when it comes to mask-wearing — meaning, masks are not required for fully-vaccinated people but are for people who are unvaccinated unless eating or drinking.

“We were not going to come back until the community was ready.”

Holly Herrick, head of film and creative media for AFs

AFS Cinema has a number of additional COVID-19 practices it’ll be implementing during its shows, including:

  • Hand sanitizers will be stationed throughout the lobby and at the entrance
  • Anyone with active COVID-19 symptoms may be asked to leave, and tickets will be refunded. Customers feeling sick are asked to stay home.
  • All high-traffic areas will be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

Finding the funds

The arts and culture industry has overall struggled to get back on its feet after being hit particularly hard by the pandemic. It’s an industry the City of Austin has worked to get more funding to. Still, many have had to look outside of government help.

To reopen Thursday, AFS asked its fans for funds by launching a crowdfunding campaign in May, called AFS’s Next Picture Show. They ended up surpassing their $150,000 goal during that fundraiser. More than 800 people participated.

“What it shows is that having a nonprofit community cinema is really essential to the culture here in Austin. This is nonnegotiable for this community,” Herrick said.

If you missed Thursdays’ reopening, tickets for future shows are on sale.