In the midst of the pandemic, a handful of movies initially slated for theatrical release refused to be left behind in the binge boost under StayAtHome orders. With businesses temporarily shutdown, and all of us shut in, people have been binging more than ever. One of the more prominent industries hit hard by the orders, has been the movie business. That includes production studios from Bollywood to Hollywood and every place in between that create the movies, to the big chains and independent theaters that screen them. Yep, that means baseball and other sports, along with movie-going has lost their status of “great American pastime” over these last few months while Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and On Demand services has been booming … even more than usual. Netflix added nearly sixteen million subscribers within the first month of the StayAtHome orders, while the global film industry suffered a loss to the tune of close to seventeen billion dollars over the last two months.
In an effort to recuperate a portion of the loss, some commercial movies, with spring or early summer theatrical release dates, got launched instead On Demand at higher than normal rental prices. Studios assume even at hefty asking price of 20 dollars, it’s a deal for the whole family to view a first run movie in the comfort of their home. Likewise and fortunately, it didn’t take long for some independent film production studios and art house theaters to pivot to technology in an effort to make up their losses. At roughly nine dollars per screening, those smaller films, although less popular, are financially more accessible. While the big Hollywood studios with their deep pockets will no doubt, weather the economic storm of the pandemic, independent, nonprofit and arthouse theaters may not fare so well. The Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) in New York cut short one festival- Rendez Vous With French Cinema, and postponed an entire other beloved festival- New Directors/New Films. Additionally, they have launched an online fundraising campaign.
As the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, your support and generosity are critical in helping to ensure that we can continue bringing you the best in cinema from around the world when our theaters reopen. We are calling on you and everyone in our incredible cinema community to help during this extremely challenging time. (filmlinc.org/support)
Although officials were able to kick off Rendez Vous Festival, they were unable to complete it before the city shutdown. Thankfully, would-be audience members to Alice Tully Hall and Walter Reade Theater where the films screen, can access some of the movies through virtual screenings offered through their website.
“While the cinema experience and physical screenings remain our long-term priority at Film at Lincoln Center, it is incredibly important for us to continue engaging with our audience during this closure,” said Film at Lincoln Center Director of Programming Dennis Lim. "In the coming weeks and months, we will be making available in our Virtual Cinema a wide-ranging mix of new releases, recent festival favorites, and repertory titles that movie lovers in New York and elsewhere will be able to enjoy from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Our programming exists to bring people and films together, and we hope to continue doing so with our Virtual Cinema initiatives.”
One of the cinematic offerings is “Someone Somewhere” by Cédric Klapisch (“L’auberge Espagnole,” “Paris,” “Back to Burgundy”). This romantic drama/comedy of two lonely people who live so close, but never quite meet is as simple and sweet as it is clever and sad. Warehouse employee Rémy (François Civil) and research assistant Mélanie (Ana Girardot) reside in neighboring buildings, ride the same subway to work and shop at the same local market, yet their paths barely cross. They even have parallel life situations, of underlying family issues driving them both to different therapists, and impacting their sleep patterns- she sleeps too much and he not enough. As often the case for a Klapisch film, the emphasis is on characters and their personal challenge. What is very unusual in this particular Klapisch film, is that there are no interactions between the main characters. The audience, although expecting a love connection at least by the halfway mark, instead view Remy and Melanie overcome obstacles at pivotal time in their life separate from one another, coming out the other end as stronger individuals, and better suited for love. Is that love for each other? Will they or won’t they? Do they or don’t they? Spoilers strictly prohibited prevent answers to all the aforementioned questions. Overall, “Someone, Somewhere” may not be quite as satisfying and layered as previous Klapsch movies, it is enjoyable and the nod to mental health issues can be appreciated. Most importantly, there is a payoff regarding the would-be, should-be couple. Rental for “Someone, Somewhere” is 10 dollars. Half of the proceeds will support Film at Lincoln Center.
Other FLC’s new releases available for streaming include Albert Serra’s provocative period piece Liberté, which was part of the NYFilm Festival 57 line up selection; a newly restore version of Italian master Nanni Moretti’s beloved semi-autobiographical Caro Diario, winner of the Best Director award at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival; Hlynur Pálmason’s superb Nordic psychological thriller “A White, White Day;” and three standouts from this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival: Quentin Dupieux’s “Deerskin,” a surrealist romp of a ride on the midlife crisis movie starring Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Christophe Honoré’s “On a Magical Night,” starring Chiara Mastroianni.
Across the country and just north of San Francisco, the California Film Institute (CFI)/Rafael Film Center (RFC) that hosts the Annual Mill Valley Film Festival, is also struggling a bit under the economic crush of Corona. Like its New York counterpart, CFI officials are offering virtual streaming, with most films costing ten dollars. Marin County resident Susan Kunhardt who in pre-pandemic times, frequented the Rafael Center for their carefully curated selections, has become a virtual movie-goer of late. She recently bought and watched “Booksellers” documentary. Not only did she enjoy the documentary that explores the world of the rare and independent bookstore and the quirky characters committed to it, she felt good about helping out a local theater as she would and independent bookstore.
“I do miss the experience of going to the theater. It's not quite as vital as the "restaurant experience" compared to take-out even from a great restaurant, but the big screen is still important to my enjoyment of the movie. I was hesitant to pay full price but I got over it! I wanted to support the Smith Rafael. If two of us had watched the movie it would have been a good deal.”
Other movies that make up the virtual theater include “16 Bars” by Sam Bathrick, “The Lure of This Land” by Alexandra Lexton. In addition to the movies of the virtual theater, Rafael Center is offering free livestream and archived conversations with the various film’s directors and actors. Officials are also soliciting donations to help bridge the gap to between now and life back to “normal.” Any true cinephile or even occasional movie goer can attest to the fact that nothing can actually compare to experiencing movies on the big screen and sharing a laugh, scare or cry in a collective theater setting, it’s commendable that some theater icons are adjusting and keeping their audiences connected in some way. The benefit is that you don’t have to live in New York or the San Francisco Bay Area to access these great films and conversations. No matter where you are in the world, everyone enjoy these films together, and help these institutions maintain and thrive.
What is happening in America now is more than a moment. It is a movement. It is an important one that has been decades, if not centuries in the making. Slavery, the fight for Civil Rights, the Rodney King verdict, and all the tragic shootings by white police and others of unarmed black people in recent years, has led to this. As a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the knees of white police officers, people of all races are peacefully taking to the streets demanding justice. This particular police "incident" is one of way too many in just recent years. Before it was George Floyd, it was Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and too many more. Although we often look to films to entertain and to escape from reality and problems, now is not necessarily the time for that. It is a good time to learn from our history, learn from our mistakes, or to be inspired by the lives and stories of leaders, agents of change. Here are a few movie suggestions for your viewing education and inspiration. (In alphabetical order by title)
1. 1 Angry Black Man (2020, Hans Charles) - A hard-hitting, engaging film evolving around heady issues of race, class and identity as experienced by a black liberal arts student. https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/
2. 13th (2016, Ava DuVernay) - This documentary gives a painfully hard look at the racial inequities pertaining to America’s prison system, past and present.
3. The Black Power Mixtape (2011, Goran Hugo Olsson) - Recently rediscovered audio and video footage from a Swedish news agency of interviews with characters from the Black Power movement has been put together and released as a captivating documentary titled “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.” The Swedish journalists who launched the project during that period were intrigued by the movement and were determined to discover “Black America” from a non-biased, non-white American perspective.
4. Dear White People (2014 Justin Simien) - A fun, but poignant satirical look at college life for a group of black students on a predominantly white campus. The central character is Samantha White, a bi-racial black student who moderates an anti-racism show on the campus radio station. This feature film has since been developed as a Netflix series.
5. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee) - During a sweltering summer week in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, issues of racism come to a head as the black residents clash with bigoted Italians.
6. I am Not Your Negro (2016, Raoul Peck) - Based on the unfinished work by author James Baldwin, “Remember This House,” this documentary discusses the state of race in contemporary America. Directed by Raoul Peck and featuring James Baldwin and Samuel L. Jackson. Now available on Amazon Prime.
7. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018, Kate Davis) - This documentary gives carefully researched look into the bizarre and maddening arrest and subsequent suspicious death in jail of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland.
8. Selma (2014, Ava DuVernay) - Before there were Black Lives Matter and the current wave of righteous race protests, there was the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for black voter rights. This movie explores the campaign spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure equal voting rights via what became a dangerous and iconic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Now available on Amazon Prime
9. Seven Seconds (2018, Veena Sud) - This vibrant Netflix mini-series is hard to watch because of the rage-inducing characters and scenes, but even harder to look away from because of the issues explored and the taut performances by a fantastic ensemble cast. An outer borough neighborhood is shaken to its core when a young black teen is critically injured by white cops. The case is officially investigated by a troubled black prosecutor battling her own demons, but unofficially investigated by the victim’s angry and suffering mother.
10. When They See Us (2019, Ava DuVernay) - An accurately fictionalized depiction of the arrest and conviction of five young men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Made into a limited mini-series for Netflix by writer/director Ava DuVernay recreates the over 20 year time period in which the accused- mostly teens and pre-teens at the time- were arrested, coerced into confessions, convicted and spent many years in jail before being exonerated. The examination of the young men that came to be known as “the Central Park five,” going through the system that beat them up and let them down, is riveting and heart wrenching. Every member of this cast gives a stellar performance, leaving audiences with a portrayal that will haunt long after the final scenes.
Yama Rahimi is a correspondent for Ioncenima magazine. Although he watches and reviews many types of films, personally and professionally, he believes films with focus on social issues have particular significance in the cinematic world.
"Movies are a great way to get personal perspective and take you on an emotional journey. The best way to understand other points of view is to watch a movie on a topic such as social injustice." He further describes how many of the films comprised of this list resonated with him personally. "While I was familiar with some of issues in the films above, they gave a better perspective and information that I wasn't aware. Each film affected me profoundly and gave me empathy that I wouldn't have otherwise."
Some may call it fanning the fire, some may say it’s soothing the soul. I believe it’s art responding to relevant issues of our times, be it the Civil Rights marches of the 60s, the protests against the Vietnam War, the fight for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, or police brutality against a race of people or peaceful protesters. As such, these films- some features, some documentaries- inspire and educate. While StayingAtHome, you may want to take a break from the news and take advantage of streaming platforms giving a platform to concerns of race, identity and other pressing issues.