Thursday, March 9, 2017
Now showing: Movies at the airport
By Harriet Baskas
The new Hollywood Theatre at PDX has a bright, 1920s-inspired neon marquee, seating for 17 (but capacity for 49) and a $200,000 state-of-the-art projection and sound system.
Hooray for Hollywood!
That’s what passengers at Oregon’s Portland International Airport were saying even before February’s official opening of the free microcinema on Concourse C.
A branch of the city’s historic Hollywood Theatre movie palace, the new Hollywood Theatre at PDX has a bright, 1920s-inspired neon marquee, seating for 17 (but capacity for 49) and a $200,000 state-of-the-art projection and sound system isolated from the roar of the planes and the shaking of the airport building.
The cinema replaces a rarely used post-security service center. Now, instead of sitting at work tables with power outlets, passengers can use this space to watch an hour-long reel of G-rated short films by Oregon filmmakers that will run around the clock and be refreshed quarterly.
The opening program reel includes the premiere of an animated film, a music video, a documentary, mini-shorts about Portland by local film students and more than a half-dozen other features.
“And the airport theater isn’t just for travelers,” said Doug Whyte, executive director of the Hollywood Theater. “We expect many people who work at the airport to use it too.”
The PDX airport cinema was in production for more than three years, but Whyte says his team is already planning special programming that might bring visiting filmmakers to the concourse during film festivals and special events such as silent film shorts accompanied by live music.
“I’d say we have a blockbuster here,” said Vince Granato, chief operating officer of the Port of Portland, which operates the PDX airport. “We want to make sure a passenger’s entire journey — from the roadway to the runway — is great.”
More airport cinemas
Portland International isn’t the only airport to offer movies to passengers who have a bit of extra time to spend at the airport.
In 2014, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opened its “See 18” Screening Room near gate C18 to show short films, documentaries, music videos and art programming by Minnesota filmmakers and shot predominantly in Minnesota.
The theater area seats 150, with an eight-screen display arrangement that can be reconfigured to allow for art exhibitions, literary readings and other events, said Robyn Robinson, Arts & Culture Director of the Airport Foundation MSP.
All films are under 10 minutes, run 24/7, are curated by The Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul and are refreshed three times a year.
Farther afield, Singapore’s Changi Airport has two 24-hour movies theaters (in Terminals 2 and 3) offering free screenings of full-length movies for passengers, with a line-up that currently includes Star Trek Beyond, Keeping Up with the Joneses and Kubo and the Two Strings. And there are movie theaters selling tickets to recent films in the public areas of Hong Kong International Airport, South Korea’s Incheon Airport and a few others.
Lithuania’s Vilnius Airport promotes its free cinema hall showing work by Lithuanian filmmakers and there’s a Cinema Time screening room showing a wide variety of free films at the Vaclav Havel Prague Airport.
“Besides airport gardens, parks, gyms, yoga rooms, a cinema — especially one that screens local movies — is a nice way to kill time,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of AirlineTrends, “You might even take a nap in a comfortable cinema chair should the movie not be too engaging."
On the other hand, there could be trouble at the airport if the movies being shown are too engaging.
“The danger, curiously, is that a too-successful airport movie theater will keep passengers from making their flights on time and will detain airline employees when they should be issuing boarding passes or de-icing planes,” said Christopher Schaberg, the author of several books about airports, including the forthcoming, Airportness: The Nature of Flight.
“This is the challenge that airports striving to be hip will always face: how to keep traffic moving while yet attempting to be destinations themselves,” said Schaberg.
Airports without dedicated film-screening spaces have dabbled with cinema events as well.
While the Toronto International Film Festival was underway in 2010, passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport could watch movie trailers from the festival in a pair of 10 by 10-foot pop-up screening rooms. Free popcorn was provided each night.
For the past three summers, Germany’s Dusseldorf Airport has hosted an outdoor cinema to show blockbusters on a giant screen set up on a concourse rooftop, with wireless headphones for each moviegoer. The series returns in July with 10 screenings.
During 2016, Denver International Airport showed free movies on the outdoor plaza between the main terminal and the Westin Denver International Airport as part of a “Film on the Fly” series.
No program is set yet for 2017, but the 2016 line-up included Top Gun, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
And, at San Francisco International Airport, in Interim Boarding Area B, a selection from Laurie O’Brien’s Peephole Cinema features silent film shorts inspired by travel and the writings of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
Back to the future
While an airport movie theater may seem like a fresh new amenity, the idea is far from brand new.
From the early 1950s into the mid-1970s, there was a regular movie theater — the Skyport Cinema — showing first-run films at Pittsburgh International Airport.
And when the new Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport opened in January 1974, “all the major airlines moved their operations there from Love,” said Bruce Bleakley, director of the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. “That left a big empty terminal with only Southwest flying its 8-10 flights a day.”
In November 1975, a developer turned the terminal lobby into an entertainment center with three movie theaters, skating rinks and other activities and called it the Llove Entertainment Center, said Bleakley, but the complex was closed in 1978.