Small business, big potential - Supporting independent filmmaking
Cinema is suffering an existential crisis while it's out of business - home networks are running like clockwork, but many of the films that would normally make it to market, have been sidelined. What can we do to support films that don't themselves have the distributive support of the bigger streaming networks?
Movie theatres and multiplexes have been shut down for some time now, something of an insufferable add-on to an already trying situation. Yes, streaming services like Netflix have kept us occupied. Yet, COVID-19 has not only halted but effectively endangered cinema as we know it. At least, the cinema of potential: independent filmmaking has taken the hardest hit, as studios find alternative means of sustaining themselves.
A corporation like Disney, for example, has the newly established Disney+ to tide fans over, providing the company with a platform on which to release planned material to an even hungrier audience, as well as material that was originally intended for the cinema (consider Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl, which will appear on the streaming service).
But what of studios like A24 and IFC Films? Studios that produce niche content, not for profit, but for the exposure to different styles, directors and ultimately, stories. The monumental success of Parasite at the Academy Awards 2020 suggested a boost to the commercial potential of foreign language films, particularly those with such a particular style as that of Bong Joon-Ho. And yet, this developing narrative has been blunted by the enforced quarantine: we’re all looking for comfort entertainment in our homes, not an exposé of the divide between the working and upper Korean classes, irrespective of its entertainment value.
A class act - Social comedy-drama Parasite swept the Oscars this year, securing Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, an achievement that boosted its box office revenue
Without the distribution, prioritised by arthouse cinema chain Curzon and at times supported by the larger players like Cineworld and Odeon, up-and-comers are having to wait indefinitely to secure a release. Perhaps marketing and distribution prices will waiver in order to ensure growth once the business is back up and running. But studios like Disney, with big-budget releases like Black Widow, will be relied on to escalate the growth in revenue: audiences will flock to see these films as they're not only desirable properties, but have been delayed to audiences' dismay. So, what can we do?
As implied earlier, streaming platforms offer one of the few success stories from this inert period: Netflix has seen a 40 per cent climb in their stock market value this year, while Disney+ continues its rise in the ranks with an ever-growing subscriber base. But in between the cracks of a competitive market, one will find independent offerings that need your help now more than ever: after the death of Filmstruck in 2019 (the wholly arthouse/independent streaming service), other offerings are at risk of the same fate.
The Criterion Collection - the industry’s foremost arthouse home video distributor - responded to Filmstruck shutting down by launching its own streaming service. It’s currently available solely in the US and Canada, but for readers elsewhere, going onto their website and providing your email is not only a means of keeping up-to-date; it also tells Criterion that you want the service in your country and that you want to invest your time and money into the films that don’t get the same level of publicity as your Hollywood blockbusters - both classics and new releases.
If blockbusters are tasked with making cinema's market value relevant once more, then independent movies will maintain its artistic credibility...
But for those not based in the US, there are two platforms perfectly fitting to this cause: Curzon Home Cinema and the BFI Player. With the former, Curzon brings its slate of artistic projects to your home through a simple subscription and is still running strongly: Celine Sciamma’s acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of many recommended cinema releases on show. Then there’s its Curzon 12 initiative - 12 films, every month, ranging from classics like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times to contemporary successes such as Michael Haneke’s Amour.
The BFI Player operates similarly: with a subscription, a user can have access to a collection of independent films, both old and new, to give you an appropriately broad taste for what the medium has to offer. Then there’s its rental service, with films like Pedro Almodóvar’s award-nominated Pain and Glory already available. There’s a cost, as with any rental service, but this is money invested in a sector that needs it now more than ever.
This is not an indictment of bigger studios. Disney, Universal, Sony - they’ll all have a part to play when the crisis dies down and people are allowed to visit the multiplex once again: Scarlett Johansson won’t just be tasked with saving the world as we know it in Black Widow, but might well be in the vanguard to save cinema post-coronavirus. Yet, if blockbusters are tasked with making the cinema’s market value relevant once more, then independent movies will maintain its artistic credibility. Directors like Ken Loach and Adam McKay will become all the more relevant once the crisis passes and questions are raised at their respective government’s handling of the situation, or at the state of society: if we offer our support, these exciting ideas can give birth to wonderfully challenging movies. So, sign up to one of the websites suggested, explore what films are out now that are not making the billboards: it’s a small offering that will make a big difference to such a treasured art form.
What streaming sites are you subscribed to? And how often do you watch an independent film? Leave some feedback and let me know! If you liked the article, subscribe to the website! I'll keep you updated on all of the latest posts. And follow The Film Foyer on social media! All of the links can be found in the feedback form at the bottom of the page.