When I walked out of the Redford Theatre on the afternoon of Saturday, February 29, 2020, my senses were energized from a big screen, Technicolor presentation of the 1945 melodrama Leave Her to Heaven. That turned out to be my last indoor movie theater visit of the year.
In this COVID-19 pandemic year of 2020, the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre tried in many ways to stay connected with the community of movie lovers who have supported them for years with personal visits to the theaters.
For many months, those personal visits were not possible, so the theaters were forced to innovate to keep their communities alive, with new services that might continue when the pandemic ends.
All three theaters made heavy use of the online world, where people connect in unique ways, all at a physical distance.
Both the DFT and Michigan took advantage of the streaming technology that has increased in popularity in recent years. By doing this, they continued their important roles as curators of alternative film for movie lovers in Southeast Michigan.
The Redford launched a series of weekly video watch parties on Facebook that allowed patrons to discuss the movie as it played, and also make donations to the theater. The series included many lesser known titles that would probably not be popular enough for theater screenings.
Other innovations took advantage of the areas just outside the theaters. The Michigan had sidewalk sales of concession food, and the Redford screened outdoor movies in its parking lot.
At year’s end, theaters were allowed to open, but the ban on concession sales made it difficult financially to show movies.
When I think back on 2020, my memories will include a cool late September evening at the USA Hockey Arena drive-in theater near my home in Plymouth. This parking lot theater showed movies all summer, including many older classic movies that filled in for the lack of new product from Hollywood.
Showing that night was the delightful 1971 musical comedy Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. As I enjoyed the depth and variety of this amazing movie, my senses also took in the peaceful night air and the solitude of the nearly empty parking lot.
It was a very relaxing moment in a very stressful year.