Sunday 24 February 2019

Watching films online

The Wife

Borderlines Film Festival 2019 will screen 10 films featured among this year’s Academy Awards nominees. But you can see every single nominee pirated online. You have nothing to lose but your identity. It’s a small risk.

I missed Bad Times at the El Royale, the potential word of mouth sleeper hit that disappeared from cinemas after a week. The DVD is a tenner from Sainsbury’s. A 23 year old friend pointed out the many ways I could watch it online, none of which contribute towards the production’s balance sheet. He imagined that they received some money from the ads.

I don’t care that, apparently, watching an uploaded DVD is not illegal. It’s not illegal because the legislative process is outrun. It is, however, wrong and a lot less fun than doing the square thing.

Do you remember when films weren’t ubiquitous? You can buy them for pennies, there are dozens broadcast on Freeview every day and thousands are streamed online complete with their creators’ permission. “Ah,” I hear you say, “You miserable hypocrite. What about those ‘otherwise unavailable’ examples of ‘cult’ British cinema you ‘discovered’ on YouTube the day you got broadband?” Yeah, well, that crime was its own punishment. To quote Marx, “Those are my principles and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”
Green Book
Borderlines Film Festival 2019 will screen 10 films featured among this year’s Academy Awards nominees. The winners will be announced over two days at the end of February. The Borderlines picks are: A Star Is Born (8 nominations), Vice (8 nominations), Green Book (5 nominations), Cold War (3 nominations), If Beale Street Could Talk (3 nominations), The Wife (Best Actress), Free Solo (Best Documentary) and Border (Best Makeup and Hairstyling). There are three nominees from the Best Foreign Language Film category: Cold War, Capernaum and Shoplifters.

Free Solo
Faces Places (Dir. Agnès Varda, 2017) was nominated for Best Documentary Feature last year. It is, I believe, the first film to be screened at the Borderlines Film Festival two years running.

Faces Places
However, there are three nominees that are only available to Netflix subscribers: Roma (10 nominations), End Game (Best Documentary Short) and the Joel and Ethan Coen “anthology film” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (3 nominations).

This is problematic. (Particularly in a blog encouraging you to go to Borderlines). Steven Spielberg, in an interview with ITV News in March 2018, spelled out the issue: “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”(Source)

Last week J. Timothy Richards, the founder and CEO of U.K. exhibitor VUE, the largest exhibitor outside the U.S., wrote an open letter to BAFTA about these concerns. He stated, “It is clear that Netflix made at best a token effort to screen Roma, screening it to less than 1% of the U.K. market solely because it wanted an award.” (Source)

I spoke to a manager of a local independent cinema. Their customers are asking to see Roma. The cinemas want to screen Roma but the studio that made it, Netflix, wants film-lovers to stream it from their website. This is a new development: film-makers used to support cinemas.

There was a similar situation last October. Peter Jackson’s They Will Not Grow Old was premiered at the London Film Festival, received a lot of media attention and cinema-goers wished to see it. It was broadcast on BBC2 the following month and no more was said. The BBC helped to make it and I doubt they’d object to cinemas showing it next Armistice Day. (Source)

The issue isn’t exclusivity. A month’s subscription to most streaming services costs less than the average price of a cinema ticket. I’m reminded of 1980s drugs awareness campaigns: “I thought I could handle it. The dealer started me on the best stuff but I began binge-watching third-rate American shows within days.”

Other pushers are available. Wired magazine listed 16 mainstream Oscar-nominated movies available via iTunes, Amazon Prime Video or YouTube. HBO Go has a deal with Isle of Dogs and Hulu stocks Minding the Gap and RBG. Other territories have their own services and the web is world wide. (Source)

Awards season is vital to cinema and cinemas. The previous Yorgos Lanthimos flick, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, was picked up by one venue in the entire south-west quadrant of England. It starred Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Many people liked The Lobster but not many people went to see it. I suspect that cinemas lost money. Four years on The Favourite is playing to full houses. Some of the audience want to see what’s getting all this attention. Most are there because Olivia Colman is in it.

As Sacha Baron Cohen pointed out Hollywood wouldn’t bother with certain genres if it wasn’t for the awards season. These films need the chance of an awards buzz to have a chance of making money. Thus awards promote the more ‘demanding’ films and art houses show them. This is very old news.

Basically the movie industry is a whale decomposing on the ocean bed. Cinematic masterpieces are the miniscule flecks of protein flaking off it. One-screen cinemas are the tiny crustaceans which survive on these scraps. Independent cinema managers sense that an Academy Award for Roma is good for Netflix but cuts them out.

The moving picture industry has been facing up to crises since the first gas-powered Magic Lantern exploded. What will independent cinemas do if they cannot screen the award-winners?

Still, they won’t be the only business plans thrown against the wall this year.

Robin Clarke


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