Cinema makes a comeback in Virac with Avatar 2 screenings

THE CINEMA IS BACK IN VIRAC! After about two decade, the cinema makes a comeback in the capital town of Virac as movie fans secure spots for the screenings of Avatar 2 at the 72-seat Shopbox Cinema at the 4th floor of the Tri-Dom building along Rizal Avenue in San Roque. Delayed by the pandemic, the airconditioned mini-theater boasts of high-end projection equipment and surround speakers that would keep the audience enthralled even for the three-and-a-half hour long fantasy movie.

More than two decades after the old cinemas on the island vanished into oblivion, the theater – a smaller version, that is – returns to the capital town of Virac with its screening of the three-and-a-half hour second installment of Avatar.

Scores of movie fans are expected to troop to Shopbox Cinema on the 4th floor of Shopbox Building in San Roque along the national road on Dec. 21, 2022.

Tickets were made available online and at the building’s Happy Mart store on ground floor starting last week, with the buyers including one who paid for all 72 seats at P350 each for a single “block” screening.

The cost of the tickets can be paid using GCash, the management said, with the buyer getting the seat of his or her choice.

Opening day will start with the blessing and inauguration of the mini theater in the morning, followed by the first screening of “Avatar: The Way of Water” at 12 noon.

Movie aficionados will have to ride the elevator, with a capacity of five persons of 400 kilograms, or hike up the nearby stairs.

At the 4th floor, they will come upon a lobby and waiting area, with the ticket office and snack bar at the left end and the entrance to the theater itself through a small door just to the right.

No food bought outside will be allowed inside the cinema while ticket buyers who arrive late will no longer be allowed inside once the movie has started.

Inside the cinema which one enters on a carpeted floor through a short corridor, the walls are lined with acoustic panels overlaid on gypsum boards to absorb the sound coming from side speakers and the main speaker system behind the screen.

At the back is the state-of-the-art projection equipment which reportedly cost several millions of pesos to acquire along with the speaker system.

The seats, four to each side, are laid out at an inclination that one can have an unobstructed view of the screen from where he or she sits.

At the ceiling are the fans for the four 5-ton airconditioning units that will keep the theater cool and comfortable for moviegoers.

There will be a 30-minute break between screenings to     allow utility personnel to clean the theater. Aside from the utility man, the cinema’s workforce consists of the projector operator, the ticket cashier and the snack bar attendant.

According to the management, the movie itself comes in the form of a hard disk drive sent by the Manila-based booking office, with a representative sent to Virac to check ticket sales.

The drive can only be played on the projector once the booking office sends the required code, a system aimed at ensuring that the movie is shown for only the scheduled screenings as the local operator earns only based on a percentage of the sales.

As the theater has been registered with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), it will have to abide by the same rules and regulations governing Metro Manila theaters.

Thus, after the Avatar 2 screenings end on Dec. 24 (with a reshowing on Jan, 8, 2023), Shopbox Cinema will feature Filipino movies on Dec. 25-31 (Vice Ganda’s “Partners in Crime”) and Jan. 1-7, 2023 (Coco Martin and Jodi Sta. Maria’s “Labyu with an Accent”) in sync with the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

The good news is that the mini theater’s featured film during a specific period of the month will be shown at the same time it appears in Metro Manila cinemas.

Unconfirmed accounts state that the first movie house on the island was the Catanduanes Theater, or the “lumang sinehan ni Dadoy” as regulars called it, which opened sometime in 1959 or 1960 along with a duckpin bowling center at the side.

It closed its doors sometime in the early 2000s along with Mike’s Mini Theatre above the defunct Chicken House Disco Pub and Restaurant, done in by the advent of the Betamax and DVD craze.

Dadoy’s cinema has been converted into a tile store, with a billiards center all that remains of the bowling hall.

Sometime in between, in the 1980s, the JMA Theater (the “bag-ong sinehan”) was permanently closed to the public after it was damaged during a strong earthquake.

The four-storey building was demolished some time ago to give way to the Center Mall annex, which has yet to be built, and its sister building, named after former Governor Juan M. Alberto, has also been abandoned for several years now.

Shopbox Cinema, registered in the name of one of the daughters of Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes and Shopbox founder Ma. Cleofe Laynes, was supposed to open after the building’s completion in 2019 but the coronavirus pandemic scrubbed the plan.

It was only after the pandemic waned early this year that the management decided to push through with the opening of the cinema.

Shopbox’s booking office in Manila has suggested that a second cinema be established in the town, so that different feature films can be shown during the same week but it would undoubtedly require considerable financing just for a new building.

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