Stream A Movie, Help A Local Theatre

by on April 21, 2020

From film "Ask No Questions"

For Beyond Chron readers sheltering in place, their stay-at-home video diet doesn’t have to alternate between the Orange Skull’s daily conference of lies and whatever Netflix’s algorithms conclude you should watch now.  Especially with the San Francisco Bay Area’s rich film culture, video streaming can mean supporting a local repertory theatre, sampling film series you’ve heard about but never tried, or even taking cinematic leaps into the unknown from the comfort of your living room.

What follows is definitely not intended to be an exhaustive list, but more of a starting point for your own personalized streaming explorations.

Support Your Local Repertory Theatre

Virtual Cinema has arisen in recent weeks as a way for our local repertory theatres to have some cash flow in these COVID-19 impacted times. Thanks to such art film distributors as Kino Lorber and Film Movement, generally 50% of a virtual cinema ticket price gets passed along to the recipient theater.  Purchasers of a virtual cinema ticket generally have anywhere from three to five days to see their film. For viewers whose schedule hasn’t aligned in the past with a theatre’s screening time, the scheduling flexibility offered by virtual cinema is a plus.

Your first port of call for local virtual cinema screenings needs to be the Roxie Virtual Cinema.  Their recent offerings have included such gems as Sorry We Missed You, Bacurau, and Best Of CatVideoFest: Creature Comforts Edition.  Upcoming and current offerings include Beyond The Visible: Hilma af Klint (documentary about the artist who pioneered abstract art in 1906, yet whose work was forgotten because of her gender), Ask No Questions (this acclaimed VR documentary concerns a former Chinese State TV insider being brainwashed to accept a government cover-up), and Strange Culture (revival of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s strange but true documentary about a New York art professor who winds up being wrongly suspected of bioterrorism).

The folks at the Lee Neighborhood Theatres are meanwhile showing several titles from the Film Movement catalog for their virtual cinema offerings.  Here’s a second chance to see The Wild Goose Lake, the tale of a Chinese criminal trying to stay free and alive long enough for the bounty on his head to go to the family he abandoned, as well as the acclaimed ex-juvenile delinquent impersonating a priest tale Corpus Christi.  In addition, there’s a restoration of the hit Brazilian sex comedy Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands, which launched the career of lead actress Sonia Braga.  Finally, the Lee folks offer a chance to try three months of the art film streaming service MUBI for free.

By comparison to the Lees and the Roxie, the virtual cinema offerings of CinemaSF (which runs the Balboa and Vogue Theatres) can be classified as comparatively sedate.  True, the acclaimed Soviet post-World War II PTSD drama Beanpole definitely can’t be called cinematic comfort food.  However, that appellation can be applied to such offerings as a new documentary about famed NY Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (The Times Of Bill Cunningham), a rock and roll documentary about the rise and fall of The Band (Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band), and a look into the world of antiquarian booksellers (The Booksellers)

Incidentally, following in the Roxie workers’ footsteps, workers for both the Lee Neighborhood Theatres and the CinemaSF Theatres have GoFundMe efforts to cover their financial shortfall from the theatres’ (hopefully temporary) closure.

Films From Local Institutions

The SF Cinematheque in collaboration with the McEvoy Foundation For The Arts is screening the video program certainty is becoming our nemesis through May 2.  Originally commissioned as part of McEvoy’s “Orlando” exhibition, this collection of short avant-garde films considers how searching for ambiguity of identity may be key to expanding who and what we are as a society and as individuals.

The SFMOMA’s Museum From Home program offers films from the SFMOMA Media Arts Collection.  Recently screened in this program have been Bruce Conner’s re-imagining of an incomplete 1966 film (“Easter Morning”) and Bill Fontana’s study of rain falling (“White Motions”).

For a more communal video streaming experience, try the Jewish Film Institute’s Cinegogue Sessions.  The JFI programming team has specially curated films from its back catalog on such subjects as baseball and food to create programs that provide both comfort and spark discussion.  Accessing the film offerings for free is possible if you have a S.F. Public Library card and you go through their Kanopy video service.

Because both Kanopy and Hoopla offer streaming video access through SFPL, these video streaming services are both free.  However, both services have limitations. Hoopla allows you to check out only three titles at a time, and their film selections may disappoint the more hardcore cinephile.  Kanopy lets you have three days per selection but only 15 play credits in a month. Playing a selection for at least 30 seconds equals one play credit. More seriously, the hidden cost of Kanopy use makes it ultimately problematic for libraries such as SFPL.

Documentaries, Animation, and Genre Weirdness

For those interested in seeing the true breadth of the world of international documentary, they should check out the DAFilms streaming service.  Already well-established outside the US, this DocAlliance streaming channel is a joint project of such major European documentary film festivals as CPH:DOX, DOK Leipzig, and Visions du Reel.  Thanks to the channel’s strong curation, viewers trying this site won’t be left blindly looking for a worthwhile film.

For the uninitiated, the annual Animation Show Of Shows brings together an international selection of the best animated shorts curator Ron Diamond has seen in festivals around the world.  While earlier editions of the show screened for audiences of professional animators, the more recent editions have also been screened theatrically for the general public.  Now newbies as well as Animation Show fans can stream at home the 17th to 20th editions of this program. The Oscar-nominated shorts “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” “Pearl,” “Weekends,” and “One Small Step” are just one of the delights to be found here.  Other gems include a “night shift work is hell” musical (“My Burden”), a basketball and romantic woes memoir (“Love In The Time Of March Madness”), and an African version of “The Giving Tree” but with hair (“About A Mother”).

Viewers whose cinematic tastes run to the truly weird need to check out The Alamo Drafthouse’s Alamo-At-Home program.  In particular, the Terror Tuesdays and Weird Wednesdays film series have several unforgettable selections available for home streaming.  For example, the restored 1982 Hong Kong horror tale Centipede Horror concerns a man’s efforts to break an old family curse involving attacks by LOTS of centipedes.  No computer animation was involved in depicting the centipedes seen on screen. Meanwhile, a different sort of warning is needed for the notorious Roar, which one commenter called the “snuff version of Swiss Family Robinson.”  What is that warning? It’s simply “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.  But rest assured 70 members of the cast and crew were bitten, slashed, mauled, and even scalped.”

Non-Bay Area Festival-Related Streaming

The Criterion Collection blog The Daily, Film Comment’s News blog, and the Belgian online cinephile magazine Sabzian have been a helpful source of information for the streaming sources mentioned in these last two sections.

The South By Southwest Film Festival gets props for going in on video streaming after the 2020 festival’s cancellation.  More than half of the festival’s selected shorts can now be seen online in Mailchimp Presents SXSW 2020 Shorts, a joint project of Oscilloscope Laboratories and Mailchimp.  The shorts featured cover documentary, animation, horror, and even simple narrative.   Films available for free screening include Call Center Blues (this documentary shows how Tijuana call centers provide employment for everybody from undocumented immigrants deported from America to people wanting to avoid involvement with the drug cartels) and Hand In Hand (a Trump-style attempt at domination by power handshake turns a public treaty signing into horrific chaos).

In addition, half a dozen selections from South By Southwest’s episodic TV pilot competition can be freely streamed on Vimeo for the next month.  The offerings include Homecoming: The Journey Of Cardboard (documentary follows artist and cardboard lover Fuyuki Shimazu, who travels the world picking up cardboard he likes) and The Dream (comedy about an aspiring film director forced to take a job as a Production Assistant and the oddball community of veteran PAs who show him the ropes).

The most high profile of South By Southwest’s video streaming plans might be its partnership plan with Amazon Prime to offer ten days’ free streaming of feature films selected for the 2020 festival.  However, it’s not clear this plan will come to fruition as more than a few of the filmmakers behind these selected works are justifiably worried the partnership plan will sabotage any hopes for future commercial distribution.

New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival may not offer feature films online.  However, readers with home VR equipment can take in the Tribeca Immersive: Cinema 360 program.   Such viewers can catch Tribeca’s 15 VR films in four programs of 30-40 minutes.  On the other hand viewers with a good Web browser can check out on the Tribeca website a curated short film that would have screened at the festival.   For example, in Approaching A Breakthrough, college student Norman Kaminsky (Kieran Culkin) has broken up with his girlfriend, abandoned his thesis advisor, and ghosted two different therapists.  Unfortunately for Norman, a visit to Central Park leads to his concurrently encountering all four of the people he wronged. While in Super Sex, a pair of siblings who just wanted to get their 80-ish father a birthday present he’ll never forget wind up picking something they will soon regret.

Setting up an account with the international documentary festival Visions du Reel allows interested viewers to check out for free some of the offerings of what would have been its 2020 festival.  Between April 17 and May 2, viewers can access such things as retrospectives devoted to acclaimed French director Claire Denis and Brazilian director Petra Costa.  The Brazilian filmmaker has earned the ire of her country’s autocrat Jair Bolsanaro for an unflattering portrait of the conditions behind his rise to power.  Each film in the Visions du Reel program is accessible online for only one day.

The My Darling Quarantine Short Film Festival offers a weekly online program of seven short films from around the world dealing with the theme of Dystopia.  Not only can viewers vote on the best film in a particular week, but they can donate to a GoFundMe for both Medecins Sans Frontieres and cultural institutions and workers affected by the coronavirus shutdown.  The festival is the brainchild of Enrico Vannucci, short film advisor for the Venice International Film Festival. Programmers from such prestigious world film festivals as Locarno, Berlin, and Cannes (among others) suggest films for My Darling Quarantine.

Honors for the most unusual film festival-related project goes to the Thessaloniki International Film Festival for Project Spaces.  This short film project is inspired by a combination of the Georges Perec book “Species Of Spaces” and the self-isolation required by coronavirus.  Basically, world-renowned directors such as Radu Jude, Jia Zhangke and Annemarie Jacir were challenged to shoot in their homes a 10-minute film on the theme of confinement.  The filmmakers could only use what’s already in their home environment, including whatever people and animals are already there. The first collection of shorts can be accessed here.

Non-Bay Area Institutions

The popular MOMA film series The Future Of Film Is Female has now become a streaming channel showing short and feature films directed by women, whether funded by the organization behind the series or not.  Buying swag from the organization’s shop provides funds to help future female directors see their short film productions through to completion.

The Henri streaming service from the Cinematheque Francaise allows viewers around the world to sample rare films from this world-famous film archive.  The only downside is that many of the offerings are inaccessible if a viewer can’t read or understand French.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Francophone to access any of the 3000 shorts and features available online on the National Film Board of Canada website.  Pay particular attention to the documentary and animation sections of the website.  Here, the interested viewer will find such films as the music documentary Ladies And Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen and animated tales such as Caterpillarplasty, a satirical science fictional look at the future of plastic surgery.

The most off-the-beaten path video streaming option probably comes courtesy of Parachute Films.  They’re offering a collection of short and feature films from Georgia (the Russian state), a mix of both award-winners and obscurities (as far as Western viewers are concerned).  There are such films as “Winter Which Was Not There” (the journey of a statue rescued from the sea becomes a metaphor for dictator Joseph Stalin’s relationship to Georgia), “Keep Smiling” (a beauty contest for mothers who have borne more than three children offers the winner a chance to start afresh with their own apartment and $25,000), and “Blood” (a plan to sell the ancestral family home goes awry when a re-visit stirs up forgotten but powerful memories).  The site can be accessed here.

Whichever of the above-mentioned options the viewer chooses to try out, it’s hoped that the experience will inspire said viewer to expand their streaming horizons.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment