Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 22, 2021

Challenges lay ahead, but promising progress marks film industry’s COVID-19 recovery

By SOPHIA LIN | September 11, 2021

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CIELODLP/CC BY 2.0

The reopening of movie theaters has played an integral role in moving the film industry back to its pre-pandemic times.

As the start of a new school year comes around, much seems to be shifting and evolving. A hesitant positivity is brimming in the air, with in-person classes, group gatherings and the like fueling progress back towards normalcy. 

Undoubtedly, there’s been great change since the beginning of this year, back when everything seemed to be hanging in the balance. Now, the path forward is less murky, though the question still remains: Can we forge our way through it?

When it comes to the film industry, plenty of these sentiments are mirrored. There was a time when COVID-19 had an iron grip on the industry, forcing production to halt and leaving hundreds of thousands without jobs. The continued existence of movie theaters — something arguably at the center of filmgoing — had even been in question during the darkest times of the pandemic. As major companies and independent filmmakers alike fought to stay afloat, the bulk of 2020 and early 2021 was an alarming, capricious time.

Since then, there has been a myriad of efforts made to accelerate a recovery, giving us a firsthand glimpse into the ingenuity and innovative spirit the film world has to offer. Gambits like the swift incorporation of streaming, the shift to remote film festivals and the introduction of hybrid awards shows all come to mind. And still, that must continue.

But certainly — and thankfully — not on the same scale. The mass reopening of theaters in itself is already signaling that the industry is on a far better footing than before. Likewise, the box office successes of movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, Black Widow and now Free Guy warily hint at the beginning of the end of this uphill climb. The tentpoles scheduled for the latter third of this year, Dune, Eternals and No Time to Die, are sure to help that along.

The film festival circuit has also, fortuitously, undergone similarly promising changes. Cannes was one of the first major international festivals to make the jump to in-person festivities in July. Just this week, the Venice International Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival have both followed suit, enacting prudent safety measures for all. Suffice to say, this is a win across the board for film, allowing independent productions their long-awaited, much-deserved moment in the limelight while reminding all of us that, yes, film is alive and well.

But all this isn’t to say that we’ve safely made it through — we haven’t. Delta and the other variants are omnipresent and not bound to go away anytime soon. With this brings corresponding repercussions, the most tangible being tepid audience numbers and further film delays. In fact, blockbusters Mission: Impossible 7 and Top Gun: Maverick are the latest to announce such delays, with Marvel’s lineup rumoring to do the same.

As it is, a reliance on streaming services — Netflix, HBO Max and more — looks to be long-term, if not permanent. What started out as a survival tactic to combat the pandemic has now become a dominating force, as audiences have, perhaps unsurprisingly, fully embraced the idea of moviegoing from home. This change alone has drastically impacted the landscape of the film industry, be it in terms of theaters, job opportunities or approaches to storytelling.

But the key thing to keep in mind as a silver lining to it all is that film, as an art form, has never been better. Creativity and originality have flourished during quarantine, and we’re now beginning to see the remarkable fruits of this. Works from legendary directors such as Denis Villeneuve, Paul Schrader, Pedro Almodóvar and Pablo Larraín, just to name a few, are currently premiering around the world. And this early in the season, critics have already been noting more than a fair share of strong awards contenders.

Yet another bright side is that there seem to be many who came out of the brunt of the pandemic with a newfound appreciation for cinema. I can only speak for myself, but I have a suspicion that cooping up in the confines of one’s home makes one long even more for the escapism and fantasticality that film offers. Moreover, perhaps, all those solitary binge-watch sessions may have driven people to search out the communal theater experience. 

For the most part, though, countless uncertainties continue to pervade when it comes to the future of the film industry. The pivotal difference is we’ve now seen the industry’s adaptability and resilience at full power and how instead of fighting against the pandemic, it learned to coexist with it. The way I see it, there is one certainty: Regardless of what might happen, film is here to stay — and to thrive.

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