As Theaters Remain Closed, Streamers Have Chance to Reinvent Cinematic Experience — Streaming Wars

Indie Edition: Both new and established boutique streaming platforms are attempting to make theatrical magic happen at home.
Photo by: zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 4/22/20 Signs of the times in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic. (NYC) Here, The IFC Center, Manhattan, New York City
The IFC Center, Manhattan, New York City
John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

With streaming dominating the industry — and suddenly becoming the “new normal” in a changing world — IndieWire is taking a closer look at the news cycle, breaking down what really matters to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars, and how they’re pulling ahead.

By looking at trends and the latest developments, Streaming Wars Report: Indie Edition offers a snapshot of what’s happening overall and day-to-day in streaming for the indie set. Check out the latest Streaming Wars Report for updates to the bigger players in the industry.

Despite an increasingly crowded marketplace, it’s not a bad time to be an independent or boutique streaming outfit. As more cinephiles and entertainment junkies have stayed close to home — rightly — for their movie-loving needs and the majority of traditional domestic theaters have remained closed, streamers of all sizes have reported a steady uptick in membership and views.

But as the pandemic and its attendant industrial woes again, few open theaters, even less new films opening in them the streaming world has another order to fill beyond just offering stuff to watch: how to liven up the at-home streaming experience to feel, well, a bit more like the big screen magic so many of us are missing these days. Plenty of streaming outfits, both new and established, are rising to the task.

New Kids on the Block

This week, New York City’s own Metrograph, both a beloved boutique theater and growing distribution label, announced the arrival of its Metrograph Digital. Not just another digital platform for new indies and underseen classics (the bread and butter of Metrograph’s still-closed NYC theater), the new venture hopes to combine the joy of in-person movie-going with the safety of at-home viewing.

To accomplish just that, the Metrograph team designed part of the initiative, billed as Metrograph Live Screenings, to as closely approximate the usual “communal” theatrical experience as is currently possible. And they’ve thought of everything, not just including pre-show material and post-screening Q&As to kit out film offerings, but going so far as to offer set showtimes (via livestream platform) and the kind of insightful introductions (by both Metrograph staff and special guests, from Manfred Kirchheimer to Noah Baumbach, Nan Goldin to Jenna Bliss) one might expect only in a cinema.

For movie lovers missing the full “theatrical” caboodle, Metrograph Live Screenings seems poised to fill a yawning gap. It’s also cheaper than a movie ticket: Metrograph Live Screenings are automatically available to existing Metrograph members at no cost, and for $5/month or $50/annually through a new Digital Membership available on any computer or mobile device, and connectable to TVs. Find out more here.

Metrograph TheaterJeremy Liebman

Another recent entry into the streaming world, Grasshopper Film’s Projectr platform doesn’t just boast the deep library of titles the indie distributor has put together in less than four years of existence, but its own spin on how to make streaming feel more eventized. The new platform, launched last month, combines both a traditional streaming setup and a virtual cinema outlet that offers new films alongside director introductions, interviews, filmmaker Q&As, post-screening discussions with critics and scholars, and related features and short films.

It’s not quite the same as hitting up your local theater, but it’s certainly close enough to tide over even the most voracious of cinephiles. Our next request: in-home concessions!

Buzzy Originals

Streamers have long been able to approximate another theatrical joy: a deeply curated series, the kind of thing that might involve hitting up a theater every night for a week-long event, suddenly doable as an at-home binge. While that’s nothing new to streamers, a handful have really stepped up their game in recent months.

The latest: MUBI, which has just rolled out a fresh series dedicated to the best of contemporary Brazilian cinema. It’s the sort of lineup that would be enviable at even the most refined of arthouse theaters, and is now available for in-home streaming by anyone and everyone. With this series including films from Cris Lyra, Marco Dutra, Maya Da-Rin, and many more MUBI wants to show off the “eclectic nature of [a] recent upsurge” in Brazilian cinema, offering “both the world of fiction and of documentary, from up-and-coming voices as well as established masters.”

It joins other recent MUBI “specials” focused on a wide range of cinematic gems, including programs focused on Indian cinema, rediscovered classics, and a brand new series that follows the career of cinematographer Sean Price Williams.

“Fake It So Real”

Film at Lincoln Center, which jumped into the world of virtual cinema early on, is also continuing to roll out interesting series and brand new films on a robust monthly schedule, along with a growing selection of star-studded “free talks” that feel almost like being back in the theater, watching your favorite creators talk about their art.

Earlier this week, the organization also wrapped up an all-digital version of the Dance on Camera Festival, which also offered set showtimes and a variety of pre- and post-screening additives. With the New York Film Festival rapidly approaching and, like so many other festivals of its ilk, destined to play out in a new form — the institution’s ability to bring theatrical excitement to virtual and digital spaces might be more welcome than ever.

Also worth exploring, even if you’ve got limited time to dedicate to replicating the theater at home: the Criterion Channel’s lovely assortment of Short + Feature programs, which offer smart curation in mini-double feature format. One current offering a “Lost Pet” duo features an Amy Nicholson short alongside Errol Morris’ “Gates of Heaven,” pure programming joy (and pain).

Big Deals

There is, of course, one other way to approximate the theatrical experience in its most obvious form: playing home to new movies that, given the current climate, simply can’t get the usual release. Such is the case with a variety of festival hits hitting various streaming and virtual platforms in the coming days.

MUBI, which has already bowed festival favorites like “Ema” and “Beanpole” in recent weeks, continues to impress with its next big get: Xavier Dolan’s “Matthias & Maxime,” which will hit the streamer on August 28, 2020 across the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (excluding Mexico), and India. Also hitting big platforms in the coming weeks: Samuel Kishi Leopo’s Berlinale winner (it picked up the 2020 Grand Prix of the International Jury Kplus in the Generation section) “Los Lobos,” which arrives on HBO Max (?!) on July 31.

Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.

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