Is a ‘floating cinema’ coming to Philly with social distancing boats? Yeah, probably not

News reports promise the same event in half a dozen cities. Local officials haven’t heard anything about it.

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Boat illustration: Virtual Gaming Co. via press release
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Do you love zany popup events? Do you give out your email address to any old promoter who promises you first dibs on zany popup events, even if there’s no shred of evidence they’ll actually happen? Then do we have an event for you!

Australia-based company Beyond Cinema has announced plans to bring a floating movie theater to an unspecified body of water in Philadelphia this fall.

In a press release riddled with exclamation points, the company says there will be a week of screenings featuring “12 to 24 mini boats” (!) where you can hang with your friends as you eat free (!!) popcorn and watch a “mix between golden oldies and new releases.” You’ll have to purchase a whole boat for your friends and family to allow for social distancing (!!!).

“Floating Cinema is back, but this time with a twist!” the release exclaims.

Excited? Just fork over your email to the company and you’ll get early notice if and when tickets go on sale.

Or wait, because none of this is confirmed yet — and it looks like the company hasn’t even reached out to the city for permission to stage this (possibly dangerous!) waterfront performance a mere two months from now.

“No city officials are aware of any plans to hold a ‘floating cinema’ on any of Philadelphia’s waterways,” said city spokesperson Lauren Cox, “and given current restrictions around group gatherings related to COVID-19 would recommend against such activity.”

The producer would need to get clearance from the Coast Guard or the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission to operate a boat-in movie theater — or both, per Cox, depending on the location. Neither organization has received such a request, nor has the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

“Given the complete lack of information about this supposed project, we would strongly urge residents not to pay for an unconfirmed activity,” Cox said.

Floating Cinema has pulled off its aquatic movie events in Australia, but now they have made commitments to a staggering number of U.S. cities, including New York, Pittsburgh, Austin, Columbus and Cincinnati, all within a short period of time. Plans for those cities came with a similar lack of details — and yet received breathless promotion in the press.

Billy Penn reached out to the company with questions: Have you scouted a location? How do you plan to get permits and orchestrate this in less than two months? How large is your staff to orchestrate all of these popup events at cities across the country in such a short period? What kind of boats — and where are you acquiring them from? What are the odds this event will actually happen?

We’ll update you if we hear back!

This wouldn’t be the first company to tout a popup attraction in Philadelphia and then fail to deliver.

Four summers ago, some 25,000 people signed up in anticipation of a quarter-mile waterslide that was coming to the Fairmount Park area. But the logistics got bungled, and it never happened. Last year, a separate Australian company announced it was bringing bumper cars on ice (!) to the city — without even having a rink location picked out. “Philadelphia is about to get a whole lot icier and dicier!!” the release exclaimed. Narrator: It did not.

There’s a lot of buck-passing when these glitzy-sounding events fall dead in the water. Event organizers have often bemoaned the red tape to get an event up and running in the city, which makes As the waterslide organizer complained: “I was told in the past that Philadelphia is a political city and you need to know someone to get something done.”

This is partially true. At the very least, waterway regulations and permit processes can be tedious to navigate if you’re not familiar with the municipality. Float-in movie or not, the organizer is still likely to solicit thousands of email addresses from people who are thirsty for outdoor recreation during a pandemic.

If you’re looking for the outdoor movie experience, there are a dozen legit drive-in movie theater options within driving distance in the region.

Next week also kicks off the “Parking Lot Social” at the Navy Yard, a different outdoor screening option that appears to be very real. Here’s actual info on the schedule, prices and tickets.

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