Oscar season is bookending a tough year for Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.
The last time Gray Duck hosted a regular public gathering was a red-carpet Oscar-viewing party.
Now, leading up to the Oscars, the theater will host screenings of Oscar-nominated short films, short documentaries and animated shorts each Saturday through April as a run-up to reopening May 3.
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“It has definitely been a stressful, tough year,” said Andy Smith, co-owner of Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.
The Rochester theater, along with others across the state, were closed beginning last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from a few screenings last summer, the theater has been closed to public events since then.
Smith said there was a bit of local pride at the Oscar celebration as South Korean film “Parasite” won in the 92nd Academy Awards’ Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film categories. Gray Duck had been screening the film months before the Oscar nomination.
“It felt like a victory for independent films and a victory for independent films here in Rochester,” Smith said.
Gray Duck also screened Oscar-winning animated short “Hair Love,” which Minnesota-based animation studio WOMO Studio helped animate. Animators participated in an audience talk-back after a screening of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts last year.
The success of those screenings encouraged Smith to open again with not only the animated shorts this year, but also live short films and short documentary films.
“It got a lot better response than I was expecting last year,” he said.
However, the few screenings over the summer were “not that profitable,” he said.
Precautions will still be practiced for each of the screenings, and audiences will be limited to 15 people.
The coffee shop will open full time beginning May 3, and weekend film screenings will return then too, Smith said. With vaccinations for COVID-19 being administered across the state, warmer weather returning, and the 93rd Academy Awards just around the corner, the timing seems right, he said.
“Oscars are a delight to celebrate and acknowledge each year,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to miss that completely due to the pandemic.”
If you go
What: Oscar-nominated documentary short films
When: 1:30 p.m., April 17, April 24
Where: Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse