Sewanee Union Theater to begin outdoor movie screenings this month

By Madison Sellers
Executive Staff

Have you missed getting to watch movies as a community with the Sewanee Union Theater every week? No need to fear – the SUT will begin showing weekly movies once again by the end of September, with a few important changes in operations to keep moviegoers safe this semester. 

Movies will be shown on a large inflatable screen on the front lawn of the Bishop’s Commons, rather than in the theater in the Thompson Union, and movies will only be open to students, with a maximum of 50 students per showing. Spaces will be first-come, first-serve, and attendees must sign in with SUT employees as they arrive through the Check-In app. Students will sit socially distanced with masks on for the duration of the film, and there is no cost to attend. In addition to movies being free, concessions will also be free of charge and available in the Bishop’s Commons. 

The SUT schedule is also changing this semester. Rather than a Cinema Guild screening of a classic film every Wednesday night and screenings of recently released films throughout the weekend, due to the technicalities of using an outdoor inflatable screen, movies will be shown twice a week on Thursday and Sunday nights, beginning at 8:00 p.m. 

“Right now we’re just trying to figure out how to set [the screen] up, since it takes kind of a lot to put it up,” says SUT manager Makalah Roberts (C’21), “but we should have our first movie by the end of the month, hopefully next week.”

Plans for the construction of the Biehl Commons on the current site of the Thompson Union have left many wondering about the fate of the SUT. Built in the 1920’s, the Sewanee Union Theater is one of the oldest theaters still operating in the South, and it is known for its incredibly affordable ticket and concession prices— a rare quality to find in other movie theaters across the country. Plans for how the theater will fit in with the new Biehl Commons still seem to be up in the air. 

Roberts says the theater will likely be preserved as it is, since the main focus of the Student Commons project is construction on top of the Thompson Union site facing University Avenue, not the backside of the building where the theater is located. 

There’s something about seeing a movie together, whether indoors or outdoors, with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, that turns the simple act of watching a movie into a remarkable experience. “Watching a movie with others in a shared space creates a shared experience,” says Clare Harkins (C’23), a self-declared movie lover, “which elevates the act of watching the film while creating a sense of connection and unity with others.” 

 For students on campus, the reopening of the SUT, despite this semester’s changes, is an exciting return to a valued campus tradition. As disappointing as the student-only rule is for the rest of the Sewanee community, hopefully enjoying films as a community will be that much more gratifying once it is fully safe for all to do so.