With cinemas closed, major releases postponed, and current productions in limbo, this is a dark time for filmmaking. It’s horrible to imagine that after months in shutdown with no revenue, cinemas already struggling may not survive this crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has potentially catastrophic consequences for film culture and for the thousands of people employed in exhibition, distribution and production.
It’s a dire situation but as film-lovers, it’s incumbent on us to think creatively about what we can do to support cinema from our homes. Disney+ has just launched while streaming giants Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video continue to offer thousands of hours of on-demand entertainment, yet the uptake of these services – as well as cable television – will do little to support the return of theatrical exhibition.
Netflix offers some great films but only if you can negotiate your way through their labyrinth of data-driven recommendations. The ethical problems, too, of supporting companies like Amazon with poor track records on employment conditions also need to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Disney’s monopolistic business practices and stranglehold over cinemas has arguably damaged exhibition and creativity in the industry more than any other single entity.
Instead of giving our time and money exclusively to these algorithmic giants, let’s instead spend our cash judiciously on the platforms that support the production of the wonderful, diverse and humane films that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and to remind ourselves that art and commerce do not exist in isolation. In times of crisis, we may prefer to seek entertainment and comfort over the esoteric and the challenging, but we must remember that even comfort food must be nurtured and sustained.
Together, by championing and sustaining the wonderful nourishment that films offer us, we can help cinema to weather this uncertain present. In this spirit, here is a short look at some of the services currently available online. We have tried to offer a fairly diverse range of options to include rentals, subscriptions and free services.
Think you’re going to have to wait for the latest releases to come to Netflix? Think again – Curzon has demonstrated through its Curzon Home Cinema service that it’s possible to quickly divert cinema releases to digital streaming. Curzon Home Cinema’s catalogue currently includes new releases like Haifaa Al-Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate, the blackly-comic Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, high-concept sci-fi chiller Vivarium, and Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film The Truth, starring French screen titan Catherine Deneuve. Don’t miss Bait, too, the surprise British indie hit of last year that broke through the arthouse ceiling to cross over to mainstream audiences.
Elsewhere, Rakuten TV has an impressive selection of rentals, including Leigh Whannell’s terrific Invisible Man and daft Vin Diesel B-movie Bloodshot, while its free rentals include Werner Herzog’s remake of Bad Lieutenant and William Friedkin’s 2011 exploitation-thriller Killer Joe.
While our US friends enjoy the Criterion Channel, MUBI and BFI Player have long been the go-to services for UK-based cinephiles. MUBI’s subscription-based model offers an outstanding curated selection that rotates monthly. Genre fans are well served this month with Brian de Palma’s Hitchcock-inspired Sisters, Shane Carruth’s mind-bending time travel indie Primer, and David Cronenberg’s 1990s cyber sci-fi eXistenZ. Meanwhile, acclaimed new release Bacurau is now streaming on the platform.
Alternatively, BFI Player offers a diverse range of global cinema via free films, a subscription service and a wide array of rentals that includes Rian Johnson’s deliriously entertaining Knives Out, Bong Joon-Ho’s dystopian train actioner Snowpiercer, and Levan Akin’s exquisite Georgian gay drama And Then We Danced.
For horror aficionados, Shudder offers some very attractive viewing options, ranging from Coralie Fargeat’s bleached-out Revenge and inventive vampire-drugs flick Bliss, to the remaster of cult classic of Phantasm and all-time classics Halloween and Let the Right One In. You can stream Shudder titles through an Amazon Prime subscription but for anyone wanting to avoid this route, subscriptions are available direct from the AMC-owned platform.
Film festivals have been hit hard in recent weeks, with many having to cancel or postpone at short notice – including Cannes – while the rest of the year’s festivals remain in hiatus. Several, however, have taken the lead and quickly digitised their content for remote audiences. The Copenhagen-based documentary festival CPH:DOX has led the charge, while London’s LGBTQ+ festival, BFI Flare has uploaded many of its entries to BFI Player. More information on what is on offer can be found at BFI Flare’s website.
SXSW was one of the first festivals to shutter, but at least now seventy-five of its shorts are available for free online through Mailchimp. Similarly, IDFA – due to be held later in November this year – has an enormous selection of films online numbering some 800 titles, many of which are free. Doc Alliance brings together seven European film festivals to offer a subscription service of their online catalogue, while the Women Make Movies project now has a virtual festival. More information on the latter can be found at the WMM blog.
There are a lot of quality films available legally for free online. For East Asian cinema, check out the Korean film archive on YouTube, while the Wu-Tang Collection has a cracking selection of kung fu films. The Thai film archive has even put together a Covid-19 playlist, also available on YouTube. Danish Silent Film offers an enormous collection of free silent-era films, while Open Culture is an outstanding resource for free silent cinema. Amazingly, acclaimed Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski has made all of his documentaries available for free, available at his Vimeo page.
These examples suggest only a tiny sliver of what is available, while the suggestions in the festivals and hidden gems segments are indebted to the work done at the Centre for Screen Cultures in compiling a list of resources and online festivals. The Centre’s list can be found here.
If you’re having a movie night with your buddies, make sure you’re fully stocked. Check out this article from Cool Things Chicago, titled, The 15 Best Beer Fridges for Your Home Bar in 2020, to have fun with your friends and a cool beer at your fingertips.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell