News to Me: FilmStruck, Kelly Reichardt, Martin Scorsese, Bong Joon-ho
One week after Turner and Warner Brothers Digital Networks announced that streaming service FilmStruck would shut down, a petition to restore the service sped past the 25,000-signee mark. Operations for FilmStruck are still set to cease on November 29, two years after its launch.
The FilmStruck news, which arrived the day before World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, continued to be seen as a serious blow to the film community and the culture at large. Within the context of the Warner-AT&T merger, it was another in a series of cuts tracking with the recently announced creation of a new WarnerMedia streaming service by the end of 2019.
A statement released by Turner and Digital Networks explained that, “While FilmStruck has a very loyal fanbase, it remains largely a niche service.” The media conglomerate also signaled its vague intentions to “redirect this investment back into our collective portfolios.” WarnerMedia has not made data about FilmStruck’s subscription numbers available. As noted by Variety, the closure of FilmStruck follows the recent shutdowns of Warners Bros. Digital Networks’ Korean entertainment video service DramaFever and Turner’s digital media house Super Deluxe.
The Criterion Collection released a statement expressing at once regret about the closure and optimism about returning its titles to a streaming library soon. “Like many of you, we are disappointed by this decision… But rest assured that we are still committed to restoring and preserving the best of world cinema and bringing it to you in any medium we can,” it read.
“I’m as concerned as anyone but I don’t think it’s time to panic,” scholar David Bordwell, whose work appeared on FilmStruck, told Film Comment. “If Netflix is the model, that streaming service consists of a host of niche appeals, and it may be that a big fat WarnerMedia streaming service could make room for a FilmStruckish ecosystem.”
Bordwell’s anti-defeatist attitude is echoed by the Change.org petition to “Keep FilmStruck Alive.” A wave of tributes on Twitter also appeared, with Guillermo del Toro insisting that FilmStruck’s library will return to streaming somehow. Whit Stillman commemorated the service: “FilmStruck was something rare; smug commentators saying ‘the films will just turn up elsewhere’ ignore the unique curatorial contribution + dream Criterion TCM combo.”
Neither the petition nor the prominent supporters are likely to stop the 1,800 films currently streaming on FilmStruck from going dark in late November, prompting questions about the ambivalence of the major streamers toward classic titles. Netflix’s own “Classic Movies” category, on a recent count, lists 56 films.
Critics and filmmakers have used the termination of FilmStruck to speak about the continued primacy of physical film libraries, while small distributors have also underlined the blow to those licensing titles to FilmStruck. Given the volatility of boutique services owned by media conglomerates, some have pointed to other models for streaming, including Kanopy and Archive.org.
In the meantime, the mad dash to view rarities and favorites on FilmStruck before closure continues. Hope springs (but does not stream) eternal.
Films on the Horizon
Kelly Reichardt’s next film First Cow is “ set in an Oregon fur trading post in the 1820s” according to a casting call. Lead character Cookie Figowitz, a cook, shares the name of a character in the novel The Half-Life by regular Reichardt collaborator Jon Raymond … Martin Scorsese is slated to begin filming Killers of the Flower Moon with Leonardo DiCaprio in the summer of 2019 … Naomi Kawase has been appointed as the director of the official documentary film for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics … An adaptation of The Prague Orgy, based on the novel by the late Philip Roth, is shooting in Prague, directed by Irena Pavláskova … Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has finished shooting. NEON has acquired the film for U.S. distribution.
✸ Orson Welles’s long-awaited The Other Side of the Wind opens today (here is a list of theaters screening the film). Welles’s cinematographer, Gary Graver, gave an extensive interview before his death in 2006.
✸ Apichatpong Weerasethakul received the 2018 FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives) Award for his advocacy of film preservation.
✸ The Los Angeles Film Festival ends after 18 years, to be replaced with year-round events.