If, like myself, your weekly routine includes multiple trips to the cinema, then you will no doubt find the current cinema closures debilitating.
London is home to such a wonderful and deeply varied selection of cinemas and film screenings that, in normal circumstances, you can practically go from film to film, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Trust me, I’ve come close at times.
Director Edgar Wright has written a wonderful piece for Empire Magazine detailing the importance of protecting the cinemagoing experience in the aftermath of the Government’s decision. I would urge everyone to read it and consider the ways they may be able to support their local cinema and its staff, for whom this will be a terrifying period of uncertainty.
While our livelihoods may not be at stake as a result of the closures, those of us who take solace in big screen immersion have lost a vital experience. How, then, should we fill this gap in the coming weeks and months? And more importantly, how can we support the establishments we care so deeply about, as well as sustain films and seasons that have had their silver screen opportunities snatched away?
To ensure venues are able to reopen their doors when all of this is over, there are several simple options available to us: purchase vouchers, become a member, or request that our existing membership fees are not frozen. In addition, Radiant Circus have compiled an excellent guide as to how we can assist each of London’s many indie film venues individually.
To support films that have had their theatrical release windows cut short or cancelled, look to the likes of Mubi and Curzon Home Cinema to stream films which have lost their big screen outings. To start, check out Brazilian neo-Western Bacurau, or Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first feature set outside Japan, The Truth – both of which should have been in cinemas now.
Individual film releases aren’t the only casualties, and London’s festival organisers are now having to find innovative ways to provide alternative access to their otherwise cancelled programmes. Much of Flare, the BFI’s LGBTQI+ Film Festival, is now available on the Institute’s streaming platform, BFI Player.
Viewers can sign up for a two-week free trial to enjoy some of the festival’s shorts and features from home, as well as a variety of other titles. At a cost of just £4.99 a month, I’d also urge you to keep your membership going after the trial to maintain support for the BFI’s vital work.
Irish Film London is similarly preparing to launch more digital content on its website after a mini online festival for St. Patrick’s Day, while other festivals like the Chinese Visual Festival are at this stage thankfully only postponed. This doesn’t, however, mean the path to rescheduling will be easy or fully viable; reach out to your favourite film events on social media and find out what you can do to help them get back on track.
If you’re lamenting the temporary suspension of screening programmes and seasons, then spend some time online and see what you can find as a temporary replacement – and if it supports institutes in the process, all the better.
For example, in place of events at The Barbican, why not check out the variety of shorts, lectures, and performances streaming for free on their website? If an upcoming Q&A you were due to attend is no more, the BFI’s YouTube channel is a free treasure trove of lectures, Q&As, historic footage, and more. If you frequented screenings hosted by the Korean Cultural Centre, why not browse the collection of over 200 classic Korean films ready to watch, for free and with English subtitles, on the Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel?
No less immune than their indie counterparts, big studios similarly find themselves forced to forge new paths through unknown territory.
To allow for enjoyment at home, certain big budget films that were in cinemas at the time of closure have had their digital release schedules fast-tracked: DC’s Birds of Prey will be available for purchase from 24th March, much earlier than originally scheduled, while NBCUniversal has already made a variety of its new features – including The Invisible Man, Emma., and The Hunt – available for 48-hour rental across a number of platforms. These rentals cash in at around £15.99 each, which may seem like a lot without the big screen, but at least we can still see these films now.
Disney, meanwhile, has made the decision to postpone highly anticipated upcoming releases like Mulan and Black Widow. It has, however, brought recent films like Frozen 2 and Onward to its streaming platform Disney+ ahead of schedule in the US. With the UK launch of Disney+ just days away, it will be interesting to see whether audiences here will also have access to these new titles.
A city without cinemas, without festivals, without special programmes and events and hundreds of screenings to choose from every week, is not one I would ever choose to live in unless an emergency like this dictated it. We must do everything we can to protect one another, but I can’t help but feel as though a piece of myself is missing. Wright summed it up better than I ever could: ‘[G]oing to the cinema has been the closest thing I have to a religion in my life.’
Film is a vital part of our existence, and historically, we have always turned to the cinema during times of crisis. Whatever big screen experience you most value, remember this: it will return, as long as we are there to support it. More than anything, I look forward to the day when it is finally safe to lose ourselves at the cinema once more – but until then, we must do all we can to ensure it is still there to welcome us home.
For information on other ways to enjoy movies in London, please click here.