In the past two months, the simplest phrases have taken on a special poignancy, as the coronavirus changes our usual way of life. For many moviegoers, that usual way of life was already subject to debate, though: were we going to movie theaters enough? Spending too much time on our phones? More generally, were we losing a sense of community, especially with people different from ourselves? The pandemic has made concrete many challenges as never before, inflicting a social experiment on all of us: what if phones (or Zoom or Google Hangouts…) were the only option we had for connecting with others? What if all the movie theaters did shut down, and we could only watch thingsat home? And what if staying together as a community, as a country, as a world—much less staying afloat economically—was a constant struggle against isolation and division?
The questions only grow more pressing as the days go by (and some of this reality was true for millions of people already). In terms of the movie industry, the issues are very challenging. New movies are not being released in theaters, and figuring out how to make—orshow—future ones is a logistical brainteaser. What’s the safest way for people to sit together in theaters? How will movie sets work? (Will performances be recorded separately and digitally combined, or will everyone put their faith in clean bills of health?) Will animation hold new appeal, as I’ve heard filmmakers from Sofia Coppola to Paul Schrader speculate? How will the festivals that introduce many of our favorite movies to the world change? Will “virtual cinema” streaming releases be the norm? And will cinema be a witness to everything that is happening, or will it be easier to look away? Are we in wartime, or hibernation?
As we assembled the May–June issue of Film Comment, the world persisted in a state of limbo. Our special section on cinema in isolation addresses how this feels from a moviegoing perspective, with essays by Nick Pinkerton and Devika Girish exploring our new ways of connecting. In the absence of the usual weekend release calendar, it’s a time ripe for discovery: essays on two movies to come (Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness, which supplies our cover image, and the provocative Antebellum); an opening interview with director Janicza Bravo of the Sundance hot ticket Zola; Jia Zhang-ke’s list of the last 10 films he saw; Amy Taubin’s correspondence with vastly influential filmmaking pioneer Michael Snow; and in-depth appreciations of unique directors from around the world whose work has shown at Film at Lincoln Center (the late Med Hondo and Luis Ospina, New Directors/New Films invitee Camilo Restrepo).
Our Big Screen section of theatrical reviews, pegged to particular dates, is a casualty of the current crisis, but we’ve expanded our Home Movies section, including writing by filmmakers Ari Aster and Alex Ross Perry. Elsewhere, our feature on poet-critic H.D. drops us into the (post-flu) 1920s, and the cruel inequalities of systemic devastation are underlined in an interview with St. Louis chronicler Christopher Harris. And on our website, you’ll find an archival interview with Bruce Baillie, the late, great “tender anarchist” (so described more recently by Apichatpong Weerasethakul), featured in the Spring 1971 issue of Film Comment.
Mention of the past brings us back to the present for Film Comment’s publisher, Film at Lincoln Center, in light of the coronavirus crisis. As announcedin March, Film at Lincoln Center has placed the magazine on a hiatus with this issue. For the full official details—including important subscription information—please consult the subscriber letter and FAQ on the filmcomment.com website. On behalf of all of us at Film Comment, I thank you for your continuing and absolutely vital support, and I look forward to returning with more of the film criticism we have been proud to publish for over half a century. Let’s get together again soon.