Sunday, April 5, 2020

Seattle International Film Festival: 2020 Edition Cancellation | Virtual Theatrical Exhibitions & The Arthouse America Campaign: A Call for Support



Outside of the second world war, and the events of May 1968, the postponement of the Cannes Film Festival is an unprecedented event. On a local and regional level, the same factors of the global pandemic have resulted in the truncation of this year's Portland International Film Festival, and the outright cancellation of both the San Francisco International Film Festival and Seattle's own International Film Festival this year. Portland was able to screen the majority of its selections with cleaning, gathering volume controls, and observations of public safely and distancing guidelines in place for the final week. In the absence of these showcases for the theatrical North American premiers coming from Rotterdam, Locarno, and Berlin, and even the stragglers from last year's festivals in New York, Cannes, Toronto, Vienna, and Venice, the annual abundance of the west coast festival market will invariably create a void in visibility and access. We'll be left with what can be found of these titles online and through some of the recently launched "virtual cinema" programs. In a short span of time a body of forward-thinking “Film Festivals and Indie Movies Figure Out Online Access”, with independent distributors such as Grasshopper Film, Film Movement, Cohen Media Group, Cinema Guild and “Kino Lorber Launches Virtual Theater Exhibition Initiative To Help Local Theaters Weather Coronavirus Impact", stepping in to bridge the gap. Correspondingly, a limited set of regional independent cinemas have partnered to participate, including SIFF Cinema, Northwest Film Forum, Ark Lodge Cinemas, Faraway Entertainment, and The Grand Illusion Cinema among the earliest adopters. Nationally, Alamo Drafthouse is offering a selection of streaming titles, and Manhattan's Film at Lincoln Center has gotten out ahead of the game, already establishing a strong body of programming for the first month of their virtual cinema.

In response to the the economic and cultural fallout of the pandemic nationwide, a coalition founded by Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, alongside such notable names in American cinema as Alexander Payne, Ari Aster, Atom Egoyan, Barry Jenkins, Christopher Nolan, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, John Waters, Noah Baumbach, Richard Linklater, Sofia Coppol, and Wes Anderson have donated a lump sum to launch the Arthouse America Campaign. Petitioning the public for support, as Christopher Nolan's statement in The Washington Post "Movie Theaters are a Vital Part of American Social Life. They Will Need Our Help" and The Criterion Collection's call for aid establishes, they will not be able to do this alone: "There are more than 150 independent local arthouse cinemas all across the country that are on the brink. Closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, cut off from ticket revenue and relying on gift certificate sales and online rentals, these nonprofits and small businesses have already had to cut their budgets to the bone. Without immediate assistance, many are just going to run out of money before substantial government aid kicks in. We can't let the few theaters that still play foreign, classic, arthouse, and independent films die off as a result of this crisis." Regionally, the film institutions that will be most harmed by the pandemic and have the least on offer in the way of state and federal infrastructure, loans and grants will be the small (often volunteer run), independent, nonprofit, and arthouse venues. During good times these institutions are already struggling, particularly in a city like Seattle with its ever-increasing cost of rent and day to day overhead. Consider giving to keep these venues alive, so that when the conditions of the pandemic subside, we will have a cultural landscape to participate and return to.

This first month of virtual cinema programming includes brief online runs of Pedro Coasta's painterly, masterful and meditative portrait, "Vitalina Varela", the surreal and violent political allegory of Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Bacarau", and the harsh postwar realities of Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole". Also on offer is another entry in the run of stylistic, humanist crime dramas, coming from the sixth generation Chinese directors seen in Diao Yinan's "The Wild Goose Lake", Ken Loach's most recent neorealist drama on the underclass in Great Britain, “Sorry We Missed You”, Corneliu Porumboiu's "The Whistlers", and Pietro Marcello’s appropriately poetic Jack London adaptation, “Martin Eden”. This leaves a significant body of work from this past season unaccounted for. Largely culling from The New Yorker's Goings On, Film Comment's Big Screen and Critic's Choices sections for scheduled openings in Los Angeles and New York this month, along with the intended programs of the above cancelled west coast festivals. This shortist being in no way complete, but represents a cross-section of arthouse, foreign, and independent films previously scheduled for the month(s) of March, April, and early May. Hirokazu Kore-eda "The Truth", Karim Aïnouz "The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão", Sergei Loznitsa "State Funeral", Mark Jenkin "Bait", Masaki Yuasa "Ride Your Wave", Shengze Zhu "Present.Perfect", Albert Serra "Liberté", Kiyoshi Kurosawa "To the Ends of the Earth", Václav Marhoul "The Painted Bird", Roman Polanski "An Officer and A Spy", Bruno Dumont "Joan of Arc", Kavich Neang "Last Night I Saw You Smiling", Pema Tseden "Balloon", Arnaud Desplechin "Oh, Mercy!", Abel Ferrera "Tommaso", Dardenne Brothers "Young Ahmed", Jayro Bustamante "La Llorona", Christophe Honoré "On a Magical Night", Nanni Moretti "Santiago, Italia", Quentin Dupieux "Deerskin", Rose Glass "Saint Maud", Cédric Klapisch "Someone, Somewhere", Hlynur Pálmason "A White, White Day", Kelly Reichardt "First Cow", Olivier Assayas "Wasp Network", Lee Isaac Chung "Minari", Midi Z "Nina Wu", Valentyn Vasyanovych "Atlantis", and Feng Zu "Summer of Changsha".