MANILA (Reuters) - Some moviegoers in the Philippine capital, tired of lengthy COVID-19 restrictions, are opting for a taste of Venice, bobbing in front of the big screen in socially distanced gondolas.
Gondoliers in striped uniforms steer and position each boat in an outdoor canal to watch full-length films, a rare chance to visit the cinema after nine months of lockdowns.
"Riding a boat made it a unique experience," patron Violet Gatchalian told Reuters at the Venice Grand Canal-themed shopping mall in Manila. "It's also one of the first cinemas to reopen so we wanted to try it."
Philippine cinemas have been closed since mid-March, when President Rodrigo Duterte imposed one of the world's toughest and longest lockdowns. With more than 456,000 coronavirus infections and 8,875 COVID-19 deaths, the Philippines is Southeast Asia's hardest-hit country after Indonesia.
The government started gradually reopening the economy in June, but most non-essential businesses remain shut - in Manila, the gondola cinema and a drive-through theatre are the only movie venues.
Gondola moviegoers may sit two to a boat, with up to 10 guests per screening and boats kept metres apart. Admission is 500 pesos ($10), roughly the minimum daily wage in the capital.
The float-in cinema aims to lift the spirits of guests and help film industry workers, said Graham Coates, head of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls.
Guests bring their own earphones and listen to audio broadcast at a radio frequency available only to those aboard the gondolas.
Open-air cinemas are seeing a revival in many parts of the world as the leisure industry figures out how to deal with the constraints of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Adrian Portugal; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by William Mallard)