This is the fifth entry in a series of DigBoston articles regarding the status of local film institutions and theaters during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Previous entries reported on the Brattle Theatre, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Independent Film Festival Boston, and the area’s corporate-owned multiplexes.
Since just about every “local film institution” has news to share, it’s not possible for me to cover the full breadth of things in case-specific articles like those linked above. So every month or so we’ll also be publishing a more general list of updates, beginning with this one.
In the article on the Coolidge, I outlined three questions that’ll guide these reports in the long-term: What are these institutions doing for their workers? How are they doing their work, if possible, while closed? And what must they do, if anything, to survive? And so I’ll try to keep the information contained in these more general update posts to matters directly related to one or all of the above, as well.
AgX Film Collective
• An all-volunteer, artist run film collective, AgX recently sent an email to supporters requesting donations to help cover funds lost as a result of the pandemic. “[Public workshops, skillshares, and screenings] keep our non-profit, artist-run space active and provide a vital form of financial, artistic and communal support”, the message read. “Yet, in addition to having to cancel all these activities, many of our members now find themselves struggling financially and forced to reduce or pause their membership dues, a crucial source of funding for us.” Those wanting to support AgX can donate on a one-time or monthly basis here.
• On the subject of fundraising, there has been good news and bad news for the nonprofit Brattle Theatre. First, the good news: The Brattle was approved for an emergency grant from the Art-House America Campaign, a GoFundMe campaign organized in part by Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. Those wanting to donate to the Art-House America Campaign can do so here (although we’ll note that if you wish to support local institutions the best way to do so is by donating to them directly).
• And now, the bad news: “We received the disappointing news that our application to join the Payroll Protection Program had not yet been approved before the Small Business Association ran out of initial funding (despite submitting it on the day the applications opened!)” according to an email the Brattle sent to its mailing list on April 17. “This puts us in a complicated and uncertain position. It is possible that the program will be re-infused with cash but we do not know when this might happen. In the meantime, we are still in urgent need of funds to keep our employees protected and The Brattle from going dormant in these challenging times.” Those looking to support the Brattle can do so by donating or joining their membership program.
• Countless film organizations worldwide have been curating streaming movie options during the pandemic, as has just about every working film critic. So I won’t be tracking that kind of thing within these updates, except for the cases where those streaming rentals directly benefit a local organization itself. However, it does seem necessary to at least mention the Brattle Theatre’s efforts in this regard, which go far beyond basically every comparable effort I’ve seen: On their website, the Brattle has been posting daily notes and updates for multiple “virtual repertory programs”, and has also launched a podcast that expands and elaborates upon those choices, among other subjects.“Our real value is our ability to curate programs.” said creative director Ned Hinkle, speaking with The Boston Globe. “We don’t make money off it. We’re a trusted source for interesting films. We are painfully aware that some use the Brattle calendar as a Netflix queue. But it provides us with a way to stay connected.”
• The Brattle has also begun to partner with film distributors to offer digital rentals that directly benefit the theater, in line with many other independent theaters both locally and nationwide. For instance on Friday, April 17, the theater began a digital run of Other Music (2019), a film that was originally scheduled to play at the Brattle on the same day. It’s available to rent through Monday, April 20.
Bright Lights Film Series
• Earlier this month the Bright Lights Film Series, which usually takes place at Emerson’s Paramount Theatre and is currently programmed by Anna Feder, began its eight-film “Bright Lights at Home” program. Those wishing to participate can sign up, watch the films at home (all on either Hulu or Netflix), and then finally join in on Zoom calls featuring a moderated conversation with a scholar and the given film’s director. The next discussion takes place on April 21, and will focus on Miss Americana (2020).
Coolidge Corner Theatre
• As related in a public message on April 9, the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation has furloughed some members of its staff as a result of the pandemic. “About 75% of our revenue is derived from ticket and concession sales, and we are now faced with the very real challenge of covering our fixed operating expenses with very little income,” read the note. “To reduce operating costs we have made the difficult decision to furlough some staff members. It is our intention to welcome back our furloughed employees when we are in a position to reopen.” As mentioned in our prior report on the theater, those wishing to support the Coolidge can do so by making a donation or joining their membership program.
• The Coolidge’s “Virtual Screening Room”, also described in that article, has continued growing: As of press time, eight different films are available for digital rental via the portal, which directs a significant portion of the proceeds directly to the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation. Also currently available via that page are multiple online seminar programs—it’s perhaps worth noting that I led one the last one, and that DigBoston alumni Monica Castillo leads the next one—as well as other digital videos from the Coolidge staff. And finally, as time goes on one can reasonably expect more of the Coolidge’s programs to be migrating online: For instance the “drag performance art” troupe Haus of Oni, which had been performing before certain midnight shows at the Coolidge lately, will be presenting a show “set to the theme of Hellraiser (1987)” on Twitch next Saturday, April 25.
• Nonfiction film series The DocYard, which is a program of the LEF Foundation, has shifted at least a couple of its postponed selections online. The first, No Data Plan (2020), was briefly made online for rental last month, and then followed by a Zoom discussion with curator Abby Sun and director Miko Revereza. The same is planned for Crestone (2020), per the DocYard’s website: A link to the film will be available there from April 24-27, leading up to a Q&A with Sun and director Marnie Ellen Hertzler on April 27 at 8 pm EST. Those looking to support the DocYard can do so here, or by donating to its partner venue, the Brattle Theatre.
Harvard Film Archive
• The Archive is providing updates through a newsletter, which you can sign up for here. In the first one, sent on March 26, there was a brief note describing the immediate status of the institution, which seems worth sharing: “The HFA team is working from home, and the theater will now be dark at least through the end of May, potentially longer,” it read. “All cancelled programs will be rescheduled in the coming year… We are taking this time to work deeply on projects that have been waiting in the wings, including important work on the website, the collections and programming. Ultimately, this will mean more resources for researchers and our audiences. In the meantime, we will be sending out the weekly missives as usual with staff recommendations and other surprises to help you weather this unpredictable storm.” Like the Brattle’s pages of film recommendations, the HFA newsletters are rich with surprising leads and suggestions, and are very much appreciated.
• Marquee Trivia, a monthly film trivia night founded by two staff members from IFFBoston, just recently held its first handful of events at the White Horse Tavern. Obviously unable to run in-person for the time being, the group held their first online trivia night earlier this week, and raised over $1,000 for the Brattle Theatre. Co-founder Wesley Emblidge tells me this unofficial test-run went as well as could be hoped and that at least one more online trivia night/fundraiser will likely go down, although no date has been set just yet.
Somerville Theatre and Capitol Theatre
• The Somerville Theatre and Arlington’s Capitol Theatre, which are both operated by the family-owned Frame One Theatres, have begun some efforts to help cover operating costs while unable to show films. The first, being done at both locations on certain days, are takeout-style “Popcorn Pop-ups”: Patrons call in orders for popcorn, movie candy, and other concession-stand offerings, then pick up their order right outside the theater itself. The next one is at the Capitol on Saturday, April 18 from 12-5 pm, and it seems likely enough that another will be scheduled at the Somerville after that: Speaking to The Boston Globe, Frame One operations director Ian Judge said “they have been somewhat successful and are at least keeping some of our salaried staff working, bringing in a small bit of income, and maintaining the connection with some of our customers.”
West Newton Cinema
• In March a GoFundMe was set up to help cover operating costs for the family-owned West Newton Cinema until it’s safe for the business to reopen. The fundraiser, which can be donated to here, has thus far raised about $39,000. “When this campaign was founded, we were optimistic that the theater would only be closed for a month,” wrote Bridget Bali, who organized the fundraiser and is the daughter of theater co-owner David Bramante, in the latest update on April 8. “As we now know, small businesses will be forced to stay closed until at least May 4, meaning that we will be closed for two months, or possibly more. Money raised beyond the original goal will be put towards the expenses that will be endured during the additional months of closure.”
• The West Newton Cinema has also partnered with a number of film distributors to offer digital rentals that directly benefit the theater.
And the multiplexes…
• In what’s possibly a harbinger of things to come for the physical spaces hosting our movie theaters, the parking lot of a Showcase Cinemas in Lowell has become a testing site offering free rapid COVID-19 results, making it the “first [service] of its kind in the state”. The site opened to the public on Tuesday, April 7, and was organized by the city, the state, and CVS. “Shaun Judge of Showcase Cinemas readily offered use of the parking lot,” per a press release, “which was configured to accommodate testing by MEMA over the last several days.” Massachusetts state residents seeking a COVID-19 test at this site will first need to complete same-day pre-registration here, as “no walk-up testing will be conducted.”