By Kellyn Vuchetich
July 13, 2021

As the film industry gains back momentum after coming to a screeching halt during the pandemic, movie theaters are beginning to increase their showings. Danny Ladely, Director of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says the theater has a fully vaccinated staff and no shortage of quality films to show this summer. There’s just one problem: they don’t have an audience.

“I was happy to keep The Ross open, but attendance has been miniscule compared to what it was under so-called normal times,” says Ladely. The Ross, which primarily shows independent films, closed last March along with the rest of the University, then followed suit when in-person classes started back up in August. One of the biggest reasons Ladely opted to reopen as soon as possible was to keep his student staff employed. With the drop in ticket and popcorn sales, he credits this ability to remain open and support his employees to an endowment of $9.5 million left by the estate of Mary Riepma Ross in 2013. 

Ladely believes people have yet to return to theaters because they’ve become accustomed to watching movies online. “I’m hoping that things will pick up over the summer as people get vaccinated,” he says. “People got out of the habit of going out. They haven’t gotten back into the habit, yet, of going to the movies.”

Although some of the movies currently showing can be found through streaming services, Ladely emphasizes that nothing quite replicates the experience of watching movies on the big screen. “Even though some of the distributors are streaming their movies, they’re offering it for in-theatre screenings as well. I haven’t had very much trouble at all getting anything that I wanted, and we’ve been getting really good movies. I’m sorry I don’t have an audience for it.” he laughs.

Now that The Ross has returned to their regular showing schedule, Ladely is looking forward to bringing back other events they’ve had to put on hold. “One thing that I really have always enjoyed being able to do is we have a program we call the Geske Cinema Showcase,” he says. “That brings mostly film directors and editors and actors to the Ross to do Q&A’s live with the audiences and meet with students during the daytime, and we’ve of course had to curtail that. I think the last person we had came in February of last year, but we’re going to get that started up again in the fall.” 

Above all, Ladely wants the community to know, “We’re open, we’re showing really very good movies that people shouldn’t be missing. A lot of them are not streaming, and we’ve got the best popcorn in the city!” 

For those who are more interested in mainstream film or prefer to socially distance, another option for enjoying movies within the community is The Lincoln Airport’s outdoor drive-in movie nights.

Last year the airport successfully held a showing of ‘The Sandlot’ for employees and aviation tenants in honor of National Aviation Day. Later in the year they opened the event to the general public with a showing of ‘Hocus Pocus’. The films were projected on the side of a World War II hangar maintained by the airport and tickets were limited to 100 socially distanced vehicles.

“I was hired in May [of 2020], so right in the middle of the pandemic, and we were just going to try to brainstorm one day on events that we could do, and obviously we weren’t really trying to have events at the terminal because of COVID and public health measures,” says Rachel Barth, Director of Communications and Customer Engagement. “We heard all these drive-in movies got approved because people could stay in their vehicles and social distance, but it still gave people an opportunity to get out of their house and come do something fun.” 

This year the events will be held on a green space on the west side of the airport with an inflatable screen. Parking is first come, first served, and guests are welcome to bring chairs and walk around the premises where several food trucks will be available. The feature on July 15 and 16 will be ‘Top Gun’, with entry opening at 7:45 p.m. and closing at 9 p.m. Entry is free to the public with 600 tickets available per night, but guests must reserve a ticket to their desired showing on Eventbrite. Tickets for a showing of the Pixar movie ‘Up’ in August will be made available at a later date. 

For those who want to enjoy the outdoors while watching a movie, Lincoln Parks and Recreation is hosting their Movies in the Park series at various locations throughout the summer. The schedule of free showings can be found here.

“The department saw this as a wonderful set of events for families using our parks that could be added to the already existing Party in the Parks and Play in the Parks free programs,” stated Public Information Specialist Kat Scholl in an email. Movies in the Park began in 2019, but was put on hold last year due to the pandemic. Attendees do not need to reserve a space beforehand for Movies in the Park, but seating is first come, first served. 

Whether you’re an independent film buff or are just looking for a free, family-friendly activity, there are plenty of local opportunities to get out of the house and safely enjoy movies this summer.

Kellyn Vuchetich is a journalism intern with KZUM.