ATHENS, Greece (AP) — They're like enchanted pleasure gardens concealed in the depths of the city that open their gates for a few months every year.
And like so much else, Greece's open-air cinemas — where you can enjoy a movie in the flower-scented moonlight with a drink, a snack and even a smoke — have been hard-hit by lockdown measures.
Under the country's partial reopening, open-air cinemas started operating on June 1, a month late and with considerable restrictions: Far fewer seats and no interval, both of which are bad for revenues.
Business so far has been slow, due to these establishments' main operational hazard even in sunny Greece — rain.
“It's been raining for three days,” said projector operator Pavlos Lepeniotis, mopping hard as an afternoon downpour soaked the spaced-out seats and sent cats disdainfully stalking off into cover.
“We had about two people at each show,” he said. “They enjoyed the film, though, and thanked us afterwards. … We don't ever close all summer and we like that, we have a good time here.”
Lepeniotis works at the Zephyros cinema in Athens' central Petralona district, built in 1933. It's festooned with posters for its specialty, 1950s, ‘60s and ’70s arthouse films.
Health restrictions forced operators to roughly halve seating, with 120 of Zephyros' usual 250 seats laid out — many accompanied by a round metal table for cinema-goers to rest their drinks.
“At first they had asked us to not even put pairs of seats close by. How would that have worked for couples?” Lepeniotis said.
Cinema operators expect revenues to fall up to 40% due to the restrictions. And it's not just the money.
“The interval, when people like to rest their gaze or get up from their seats, is an integral part of the experience,” Lepeniotis said. “People will miss it.”
Greece, which locked down quickly, has had over 2,930 confirmed coronavirus infections and 180 deaths, according to government data.
Under the country's gradual easing of its lockdown, restaurants could serve customers indoors beginning Saturday and night clubs and internet cafes can reopen Monday. On June 15, establishments as diverse as museums and brothels reopen. Concerts and other public performances restart on July 1. There's no date yet for indoor cinemas.
Across the wider European Union, officials want border restrictions for EU citizens lifted by the end of June.
Sotiris Riggos, owner of the Panathinea open-air cinema in the capital's central Neapoli district, said the outlook has improved now that operators have clear government guidelines — and a sales tax cut. Panathinea has deployed 140 of its 230 seats.
“Things don't look as bleak as three weeks ago,” he said. “People want to go to the cinema.”
By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS and PETROS GIANNAKOURIS Associated Press