News to Me: Social Distancing, Cancellations, and Streaming
Peter Kubelka’s Invisible Cinema, November 1970, Anthology Film Archives, at first location in The Public Theater
1. The response to COVID-19 has (necessarily) ramped up over the past week, affecting the film industry big and small. Locally, a number of New York’s cinemas have temporarily closed their doors, including Anthology Film Archives, Spectacle, Light Industry, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of the Moving Image (who have now canceled their First Look Film Festival). Our publishers, Film at Lincoln Center, have also shut down for the time being, making the difficult decision to postpone this year’s New Directors/New Films festival. BAM had initially cut audiences to 50 percent capacity to encourage social distancing, but have since closed entirely. On the larger end of the scale, AMC continues to screen at a reduced rate, with drastically increased cleaning measures. (Update: As of this Tuesday, March 17, all New York cinemas will be closed.)
A majority of those aforementioned cinemas are non-profit, or operate on small budgets, and are going to face financial hardship during these strange times. Please consider donating using the links above. Our friends over at Screen Slate (now Stream Slate, more on that later) have teamed up with Light Industry to put together a Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund, helping those who aren’t able to “work from home” during the shutdown.
So please, over the next few weeks of streaming, spare a thought for the cinemas. As Natasha Lennard writes, there’s no better time to reflect on what it means to share such communal spaces: “If it is because we see our potential for interconnectedness that we stay home, what will we do with that same potential, in plain sight now, when this virus has peaked and passed? Will we remember to fixate, as we do now, on the sites where we risk finding each other and spreading something together: the subway, the classroom, the workplace, the meeting, the protest?”
2. Looking more widely at the coronavirus crisis now, Complex has put together a comprehensive timeline of all the changes happening in Hollywood—from the new Bond film being delayed (one of the few ramifications last week) to the total shutdown of all production from Disney, Netflix, HBO, and more. (Even the Razzies have been cancelled.) Internationally, a number of cinemas in Europe are closing in accordance with local governance—La Cinémathèque Française and Berlin’s Tilsiter Lichtspiele just two well-known examples. (In England, BFI Southbank remains open for now, though BFI Flare has been cancelled.) And lastly, the fate of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, currently scheduled to begin May 23, is still under discussion. A formal announcement is planned on April 16—the date previously reserved to announce those films selected in competition. (Update: As of this Thursday, March 19, Cannes Film Festival has postponed their festival in a recent press release.)
3. On the subject of cinema-going, Vulture recently sat down with Dr. Robert Lahita, Chairman of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey, to discuss the actual risks associated with going to the movies. “I have significant problems with any groups that are larger than 20,” he notes, stating that, in most cases, shared viewing experiences should be avoided. And over the weekend, the New York Times published this piece on just how badly cinemas were suffering, with total attendance dropping by 44 percent—the worst on record in nearly two decades.
4. “The paradox of public events in this strange moment is that their success is measured by crowds; exactly the kinds of movies that have their commercial success riding on high and quick box-office return are the ones that now, in the face of a pandemic, pose the greatest threat of contagion.” One last piece on how the coronavirus is affecting the film industry: The New Yorker’s Richard Brody looks at the problem with “going viral” in the time of social distancing, and whether this momentary change in viewing habits portends a more long-term shift.
5. On that note: Mandatory isolation means more time for movie-watching, and to this end, Screen Slate—up until now a local resource for New York’s repertory cinema scene—is mutating into Stream Slate, with plans to churn out its usual content for a digital audience. “It is unlikely that we will continue to publish listings,” wrote founder and editor Jon Dieringer in a statement last week, noting that the cinemas most featured on Screen Slate have been forced to close. “Nevertheless, we’ve published 365 days without fail for more than nine years, and we’re all enthusiastic about keeping the streak alive . . . we hope getting your Screen Slate email every morning around 10am helps you to maintain some small semblance of comfort and normalcy.” Also, keep your ears open for a new Film Comment Podcast series, launching this week.
6. Going digital will likely be the trend for the next few weeks, with MoMI taking steps to continue their recently-cancelled First Look Film Festival online—such as the premiere of Yaara Sumeruk’s If We Say That We Are Friends being made available on Vimeo (password: Dine) and followed by a Zoom-hosted Q&A. The Quarantine Movie Club has stepped up to satiate the need for communal watching, live-streaming a selection of random films every week (random being the keyword here—all the Nothing in Seinfeld just one example). And, if you weren’t already aware, Le Cinéma Club has been hosting one film per week for a while now—currently showing Jorge Jácome’s Flores, “An intoxicating and romantic tale of apocalypse in the Azores.”
7. Though Netflix has suspended all production, for the time being, there may nevertheless be a new David Lynch collaboration in the works. After his 17-minute monkey movie popped up out of the blue not long ago, Lynch has apparently been meeting with the streaming service to discuss a potential miniseries. Also present at those meetings: regular collaborators Naomi Watts and Laura Dern—sparking rumors of a possible spin-off (Mulholland Drive or otherwise). Little else is known about the project, other than this piece of “leaked” casting info: “The lead of the new David Lynch film requires tasteful nudity. Actress with dark hair in their mid to late 20s.”
8. As a resource for all those filmmakers affected by festival cancellations and other disruptions, Field of Vision has launched a new Mentorship and Consultation Service for the documentary community. “As we’re in a moment of uncertainty, we want to make ourselves available to filmmakers in any way we can. We understand that the industry is experiencing a lot of upheaval, and that this is a particularly difficult time for freelancers and people working independently,” they write, noting that the service is available to all filmmakers. The service covers such topics as project development, online distribution, festival strategy, pitch training, among others.
9. For Filmmaker magazine, Lynn Chen reflects on the death of her father in the wake of her first feature film, I Will Make You Mine, having its SXSW premiere canceled. “The cancellation of the festival feels familiar to me, reminiscent of [my father’s] passing. The days leading up to the announcement, I had the same sinking feeling, knowing that a bomb was about to drop but ignoring the signs, staying painfully optimistic…But the world is different right now. Everyone is being affected by this virus—each of us is processing our trauma, to varying degrees, simultaneously.” (Here’s another, more upbeat Filmmaker piece, covering cows and their trainers in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow.)
10. More streaming options for those in need of a time-passing palliative: The Criterion Channel has made available a collection of films starring Max von Sydow. The line-up includes a number of his most-famous Bergman collaborations, as well as Lars von Trier’s Europa, Wim Wenders’s Until the End of the World, and Jan Troell’s Here Is Your Life. Ephraim Asili has made several of his films available on Vimeo, including Fluid Frontiers and other installations in the “Diaspora Suite” series (mentioned in our 2017 experimental film round-up). Other Vimeo entries include Sebastian Wiedeann’s Los (De)pendientes, Marc Nemčik’s Lost Paradise, and the many works of Lois Patiño.
We leave you this week with a short excerpt from Richard Serra’s Match Match Their Courage, which we were tipped to by the aforementioned Stream Slate, and which features artists Nancy Holt and Charlemagne Palestine practicing social distancing. Stay safe out there!