Parkway Theatre is screening new releases online during the pandemic

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The lobby of the Parkway Theatre. Photo courtesy of Post Typography.

So you’ve finished binge-watching “Tiger King” and the rest of your streaming queues are looking pretty stale.

What to watch now as you do the right, state-ordered thing and stay inside your home unless it is absolutely necessary to leave?

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre has you covered with screenings of nine new movies–only through digital platforms instead of on the big screen.

The current options include a documentary on “Fantastic Fungi,” Brazilian thriller “Bacurau” and, as of Monday, the offbeat Romanian crime thriller “The Whistlers.”

Shortly after the coronoavirus pandemic shut down movie theaters across the country this month, some studios and distributors began putting their films online.

Q. Ragsdale, the Parkway’s director of marketing and innovation, said staff reached out to distributors, such as Kino Lorber, Oscilloscope Films and Magnolia Pictures, to migrate the theater’s slate of films to the Parkway’s website.

“And then one by one, distributors said, ‘Yeah, we can do it. Yeah, we can do it.'” Ragsdale said.

KJ Mohr, a programming consultant, said the Parkway works with 70 first-run distributors and a couple dozen directors, archival collections and repertory distributors. Mohr said the first event cancellations earlier this month were “jarring,” but the staff quickly mobilized to get films online.

While one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, Universal, moved some of its releases to a pay-per-view model, Ragsdale said smaller independent studios recognized that art house theaters help their releases find an audience and made a point to include them.

“They really understand the importance of art house cinemas,” said Ragsdale. “And they could have left us out, but they didn’t.”

Major studios can expect to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars for huge blockbusters, but smaller foreign and indie filmmakers are working on much tighter margins.

“A lot of them are just covering their costs and covering the salaries of their crew,” Mohr said.

So even a limited, online-only release can go a long way to supporting their art.

At the moment, watching a movie through the Parkway’s site requires buying a virtual ticket and then signing up for distributor’s streaming platform, but Ragsdale said the movie house is building a new site to house all the movies in one place, requiring only one login. The Parkway hopes to launch the site by no later than mid-April.

“When we say we’re doing this in real time, it’s literally happening in real time,” Ragsdale said.

A few upcoming releases to look out for: Marco Bellocchio mafia drama “The Traitor,” the Martin Scorcese-produced documentary on The Band called “Once Were Brothers,” and Ken Loach’s drama on a gig economy driver “Sorry We Missed You.”

While the Parkway is not getting the normal amount of money it would if these movies were playing on the big screen, the nonprofit theater’s cut will support director talks, free screenings, workshops and other programming when things are able to return to normal.

In some ways, the movie industry’s response to the pandemic is a preview of what’s to come as more distributors and studios release movies on streaming services shortly after they debut in theaters, Mohr said.

But both Mohr and Ragsdale said the Parkway is offering something unique, particularly at a time when people are self-isolating at home and are seeking entertainment options.

“Just to be able to escape for an hour and a half, two hours is something that’s truly needed right now,” Ragsdale said. “Yes, there’s Netflix and Hulu and all the platforms. But for cinephiles, for people who truly love film, you still want the experience of seeing the latest release.”

And it’s more than a way to kill time.

“Entertainment is important, and it goes beyond entertainment,” Mohr said. “It’s connection.”

Brandon Weigel


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