Small Movie Theaters in the Time of Corona

plus: "Someone, Somewhere” review

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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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 recoup 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 the 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 bookstores and the quirky characters committed to it, she felt good about helping out a local theater as she would an 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.


“Someone, Somewhere”

Director: Cedric Klapisch

Writers: Santiago Amigorena, Cedric Klapisch

Stars: Francois Civil, Ana Giradot, Camill Cottin

Language: French

MPAA Rating: not provided

Runtime: 110 min

The Booksellers

Director: D.W. Young

Stars: Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz

Language: English

Runtime: 99 min

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