When this is over, we’ll still want movie theaters

While we watch movies on our TVs, the good people who run the theaters we love worry about paying their bills. They don’t know how long this situation will last, and for the time being, they’re not getting any money. “On paper, they’ve only shut their doors temporarily—but faced with the prospect of being shuttered for months, theaters across the country are worried they might go out of business,” says Drew Schwartz at Vice.com.

As fans of the theatrical experience, and of favorite movie theaters, we can help. If enough of us pitch in, theaters will be ready to open when the time comes.

Sure, we’ve all been watching movies at home for decades, but it’s not the same thing. The big screen and the audience around you create an immersive experience that not even the biggest home theater can emulate. Cinema, at its best, is a crowd experience.

But for now, we must watch movies at home. And yet, thanks to streaming video, theater websites, and Zoom, you can watch brand-new films, help theaters to financially survive, and talk with other people about the movie you just saw.

Streaming for theaters

A few independent distributors have set up a way for art house theaters to get money when you stream a film. You buy a virtual ticket to a new film at your preferred movie house. That ticket allows you to stream the film at home, but some of the money for that ticket goes to the theater.

“Welcome to social-distancing cinema, wherein the survival of a bricks-and-mortar theater depends on the technological innovation that was supposed to kill it forever.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post.

Under its new Kino Marquee initiative, Kino Lorber is currently streaming Bacurau, which won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Over the next few days, you can watch Bacurau at home via Kino’s pay-per-view service, Kino Now, while helping the Roxie, the Rafael, or the New Mission. On Thursday (yesterday), Kino announced that Kino Marquee has expanded to 150 art house cinemas.

The Rafael, the Roxie, and the Lark have taken up this concept completely. The Rafael’s current home page has almost nothing but links to streaming movies that otherwise would run in their theater. The Lark’s webpage, on the other hand, looks normal. It’s only when you click to buy tickets that you discover the movies are streaming to your home.

Oscilloscope Films, Distrib Films US , and Film Movement are also streaming new films in relationships with theaters – although not all with Bay Area theaters.

Streaming reviews

A- Sorry We Missed You (2019), helping the Rafael, opens Friday

Imagine a food that you absolutely hate, but you eat it anyway because it’s good for you. That’s the experience of seeing Ken Loach’s grim but necessary attack on the gig economy. A man struggles to make money delivering packages. In theory, he’s an independent contractor, but he’s much worse off than an employee. His wife, a nurse, is also in the gig economy. Neither of them has time to take care of their children. With almost no happy moments, Sorry We Missed You is like an empathy bomb, forcing you to care for the working poor. Read my full review.

B+ Bacurau (2019), helping the Roxie, the Rafael, or the New Mission

The Brazilian town of Bacurau is so small and unimportant that it’s not even on Google Maps. But something evil is coming its way. We know there’s something evil when an overturned truck is filled with empty, now-broken coffins. And yet, for a large part of the movie, we get to sit back and enjoy the people and the atmosphere. I’m not telling you where the evil comes from, but the final act feels like a Sam Peckinpah western, and a good one. Sônia Braga plays the no-nonsense doctor.

How else you can help

Watching films at home isn’t the only way you can help movie theaters. (I never thought I’d write that sentence.) You can buy discount cards, make donations, and join virtual clubs.

Here’s what some theaters are asking us to do for help:

Balboa & Vogue: You can shop at the Cinema SF online store, where you can buy a tote bag (three styles) or a $20 t-shirt (two color schemes). The Loyalty Card (most theater chains call them discount cards) gives you five tickets for future use. That’s $8 a ticket for the math impaired.

Theater employees are hit worst by the theaters’ closings. If you feel generous, you might want to put some money in GoFundMe’s Balboa/Vogue Employee Relief Fund.

Cinema SF is considering an online Movie Club for the next couple of weeks. They would pick a movie that is readily available on a streaming platform. People would watch it at roughly the same time, then discuss it through Zoom or a similar service. If you like the idea, let them know.

Cerrito & Elmwood: They’re still selling Gift Cards, which are for both tickets and food.

New Mission: Along with joining in with Kino Marquee, Alamo Drafthouse (the company that owns the New Mission) has set up an Alamo Family fund to help employees in these hard times.

New Parkway: Oakland’s special theater is selling gift cards, movie tokens, annual and lifetime passes, and t-shirts (coming soon) in their online store.

Among other ways to help and keep connected with the New Parkway:

  • Movie Club: Thrillville’s Will Viharo will host a Saturday matinee series you can watch at home, followed by a Zoom discussion. Blue Velvet is coming up this Saturday. Unfortunately, I can’t find details.
  • Kickstarters: They’re raising money to renovate the theater and update the furnishing.
  • Go out to eat: The New Parkway is almost as much a restaurant than a movie theatre. While the theater is dark, they’re turning it into a take-out place.

You can find more details on the theater’s Hiatus page.

Rafael: Yes, they have all sorts of ways to donate money.

The loss of motion picture theaters will not be the worst outcome of coronavirus. But I sure wouldn’t like a world without them.

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