DURING the lockdown months of Covid-19, it was no surprise to learn that there was a significant increase in people using streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch films and pass the time.

However, nothing quite beats the experience of going to the cinema at the weekend or for a midweek treat.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced cinemas, like most places, to shut their doors due to an obvious health and safety risk. With the lifting of some restrictions, the Stormont Executive recently gave the go-ahead for them to open.

With many measures bound to be in place to ensure adequate health and safety, I went along to Movie House Cinema at Cityside, Yorkgate, on a recent Saturday night with my partner to experience the ‘new normal’.

The first thing to do before you turn up at the cinema is of course to choose what film you wish to see. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the entire world and the film industry is no different. The reality is that there aren’t as many new releases out there as there normally should be.

Instead, the choice of viewing was largely made up of newish or recent films and classics such as Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, Goodfellas, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Frozen 2 and The Conjuring, to name but a few.

For nostalgic reasons, I opted for the 7.30pm screening of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a personal favourite of mine.

As we approached the Cityside venue, we were greeted by a member of staff with an iPad who asked if we had made a booking. We had not pre-booked on this occasion but it is highly recommended you do so on the Movie House Cinemas website to ensure you get a seat. (I’ll explain later.)

With a high fever a common feature of the virus, Movie House Cinemas to their credit have installed a new machine at the entrance, with every customer having their temperature checked before entry. I have to say I was not expecting it, but fair play to them for going that extra mile during these uncertain and worrying times.

Our temperatures were fine and we proceeded ahead but not before doing the single most important thing which we are all accustomed to doing by now – sanitizing our hands using the stations provided.

We were then shown to a staff member at the kiosk who is stationed behind a perspex screen. This is where you purchase your ticket for the movie as well as making any purchases such as the standard popcorn, nachos, sweets and drinks.

You can pay for your ticket using cash or card but you must choose where to sit, either the front, middle or back. This is why it is important to pre-book your tickets so the system can see what tickets have already been sold and where is free in the cinema screen to ensure adequate social distancing.

With the ticket purchased as well as a snack (or two), we headed around to the relevant screen. Floor markings remind you to please keep 2m apart to ensure adequate social distancing while other signs simply state ‘Welcome Back’ which reminds us of what a privilege getting out of the house and going to the cinema is in August 2020.

I must also point out that the Movie House Cinema staff  clean the place constantly and the door was left open for us to enter so we did not have to touch anything. My partner also commented on the cleanliness of the toilets, which is more important now than it has ever been.

In to the film itself and the screening of Harry Potter happened to be in the VIP screen with wonderful reclining leather seats, available at no extra cost. The rows definitely seemed a lot more spaced out than normal. With allocated seating and extra space, it is as safe as safe can be in the current circumstances.

I have to say it was good to be back and I thoroughly enjoyed rolling back the years with the third Harry Potter film. The new health and safety measures at Movie House Cinemas are a change from the classic movie experience but they are professionally done and  necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit at the same time. I would have no qualms about going to the cinema again in the near future.

Going to the movies is back and let’s hope we are able to continue enjoying one of life’s great pleasures of a night at the movies for the foreseeable future.