Trapped at home? Faced with little to look at besides your computer and TV screens? Overwhelmed with all of the content available on online platforms? Well, have no fear: Miami cinemas are here to help streamline your life in the age of streaming.
This past week, Miami's arthouse cinemas — including the Bill Cosford Cinema, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Tower Theater Miami, and O Cinema South Beach — have had to close their doors in order to protect their staffs and audiences. But two of these institutions, the Bill Cosford and O Cinema, have taken to their respective social media accounts to keep their audiences up to date on what they ought to watch at home.
"The idea really came out of disappointment," Trae DeLellis, creative director of the Cosford Cinema, explains. "I was really excited about our upcoming programming for the spring that we wouldn't be able to share with audiences, but I realized there was still a way to program, create a sense of community through cinema, and highlight great films.
"I also wanted to make sure that we covered a wide swath of streaming platforms, as I know most people don't subscribe to all. It's been a lot of fun to really dig into what these platforms have to offer, because you quickly discover there is some great content underneath the algorithms and branded content that's pushed to the front."
Kareem Tabsch, codirector of O Cinema, has similar reasons for offering recommendations. "We know just how important O Cinema is to our audience and our community who come to the theater because they've come to trust and enjoy our curatorial vision. It's a scary time, and anxiety is high as we face the uncertainty of how this will continue to affect our lives, so we want to do whatever we can to retain a sense of normalcy in the lives of our community and to continue supporting independent art cinema."
Tabsch adds, "Our staff is all chiming in with choices, and we'll be highlighting films we individually love as well as films we've screened before, films from local filmmakers, and classics that are ripe for rediscovery. The reality is that streaming movies from home is one of the growing ways audiences are experiencing movies, and there are so many wonderful films out there that we think folks should experience."
So far, O Cinema has highlighted six feature films on its Instagram account: the documentaries Amazing Grace and Screwball (by Miami's own Billy Corben); the Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole classic The Lion in Winter; the drama Short Term 12; the Safdie brothers thriller Good Time; and the horror movie The Descent. The Cosford has suggested four films daily via its Instagram stories, including The Kindergarten Teacher and Happy as Lazzaro on Netflix; The Duke of Burgundy and Assassination Nation on Hulu; Black Girl and The Housemaid on Criterion Channel; and Us and The Favourite on HBO. The Cosford's DeLellis even made a special St. Patrick's Day-themed edition that included The Irishman, Greta, Hunger, and Leap Year.
Although everyone is enjoying the opportunity to indulge and share in their love of their favorite films, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting cinemas as much as any other local business. "While we are hoping to be able to reopen the first week in April, we know that will be dependent on a lot of things that are likely beyond any of our control," Tabsch explains. "The truth is that closing is a difficult choice to make. It means our revenue goes down to zero — no ticket sales, concessions, venue rentals — but despite the challenges of it all, we are committed to keeping our staff paid although we still have to contend with things like rent, utility, and other monthly expenses.
"This is a difficult thing for any business to contend with, especially a nonprofit," Tabsch continues. "However, we believe it was the socially responsible thing to do in the face of this global health pandemic, and we'll continue to do what is best for our community, our patrons, our staff, and our organization. We'll weather this storm together."
DeLellis says that even though closing hasn't been ideal, he believes that making the decision to shut down before the mandated ordinance was right. "With what is known and unknown about the virus, it felt a little reckless to create a space for strangers to come together in a tightly enclosed space. It was especially important to us as we have both a young audience of college students as well as a substantial audience of more mature patrons in the community. It felt like a potential perfect storm for making the problem worse.
"This is not great for a bottom line for a nonprofit arts organization," DeLillis adds, echoing Tabsch's sentiments. "And I wouldn't want to minimize the effect on our staff as well as the industry behind arthouse and independent cinema, including distributors and filmmakers. I remain optimistic, though, that after the appropriate amount of social distancing, we will all really appreciate that unique experience of taking in a film as a group and be back at the cinema as soon as possible."
As for what the two are doing during the pandemic themselves? Work, cinema, and everything in between.
"I'm taking this time to fill in some of the blanks in some of my favorite director's oeuvres, like some of the French New Wave that I haven't seen, and I just discovered the filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger and am excited to dive into some of her films," DeLellis discloses. "Tonight I'm watching a film by Tsai Ming-Liang, a filmmaker [whose work] I really enjoy but demands concentration. I'm also trying to supplement my viewing with essays and articles about the filmmakers.
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"Likewise, I luckily have some saved-up episodes of Karina Longworth's podcast, You Must Remember This — and I am always listening to them over and over again — so I may check out Mary Harron's Charlie Says and relisten to Longworth's Manson Family series. Before all this, I had started reading a biography on producer Joan Harrison, Phantom Lady, by Christina Lane, and I may jump into more biographies of lesser-known Hollywood players once I finish."
Outside of spending a ton of time tackling his inbox, Tabsch has been taking the societal pause to revisit long-term projects for O Cinema and explore new works.
"I'm down to 150 unread messages, which is a huge improvement," he says. "I'm watching the docuseries McMillions on HBO, Season 2 of Kingdom and Ugly Delicious on Netflix, and RuPaul's Drag Race. I am also doing deep dives into screeners of films we'll be programming at O Cinema in the coming months!
"I tend to rewatch a lot of my favorite things during times of extreme stress or exhaustion; the familiarity is comforting to me, so I'm hoping to revisit some of my favorite films over the next few weeks, and I'll also be working on some film projects I currently have in development and production," Tabsch adds. "Like so many people, coronavirus has upended my plans for the next few months, but I'm determined I won't let it interrupt my creative flow or positive hope that 2020 will be good in its own right."