The Civic Theatre’s screen is dark at the moment, but the society that runs the facility is offering virtual alternatives. Photo submitted

COLUMN: Civic Theatre offers virtual screening rooms

Cinema typically bounces back from catastrophe, Brian May writes

By Brian May

This month my nephew got married. I wasn’t there. Nobody was. It was just outside of San Francisco so we planned a grand road trip. Then the world shut down. He and his partner cancelled with an email titled “Love in the Age of Corona.”

The whole family moped for a month, but when the weekend arrived, guests from far and wide linked in to a video call. We watched them head out to the street, masks on their faces, to exchange vows. Then we all sat in front of our screens, offered toasts, and wished them the grandest of lives. The honeymoon will wait.

Incident by incident, we quickly moved into this new reality. One evening I was in the basement watching John Prine music videos. He had passed away from COVID complications. That may sound like a sad evening but Prine was a songwriter who could wrap warm melodies around wonderful pictures of the human condition, so those videos were joyful and I knew that many around the world were watching them with me.

Like you, we have shared living room concerts with favourite musicians, attended Easter services, watched film festivals, talked to family, and learned how to sew facemasks by videos and live streaming. So I suspect many of you feel that same quiet appreciation that many around the world are watching with you.

Why am I telling you all this? Connections, I suppose. Before we emerge and raise our eyes to say hi to neighbours again, the world will have changed. Exactly how I can’t say but those connections will be core.

The Civic Theatre recognized this right away. As soon as gatherings were limited, they closed their doors. That was on a Monday. By Wednesday they had developed ways to bring film to your home, to connect the wider world to your little world.

When major studios decided to cut theatres out by releasing films direct to cable, independent distributors stepped up to show films through virtual screening rooms. The Civic is one of them. The Civic has been working with independent cinemas continent wide for a few years now and many share our society’s goals to “Entertain, educate, connect, and communicate.” Hopefully their revival offers a glimmer on the fringe of the grey horizon.

Ticket sales allow patrons to support both smaller filmmakers and local cinema. Fascinating documentaries, award winning international film, short film, and discussions have all been offered. If you haven’t entered The Civic’s virtual screening room yet, formats, reviews, and schedules can be found on their website or Facebook page. Popcorn can be ordered for pickup on Fridays.

But will people make this new reality the long-term reality? Our board can embrace both business models but we’re moving forward.

In an April 6 story in the New Yorker – “Why cinemas will bounce back from the coronavirus crisis” — author Kaleem Aftab detailed how cinema emerged stronger after the Spanish flu, the Depression, World War II, the start of the TV era, McCarthy blacklists, and the Hays code on sex and violence. In 1975, Steven Spielberg gave us Jaws, which started the summer blockbuster trend and the emergence of VHS video in the ’80s actually led to increased passion and knowledge of film, the growth of multiplexes, and the doubling of North American box office earnings since 1998.

Aftab expects that “After several months cooped up indoors, watching films on our television sets and computer, the experience of seeing a film in cinemas the way they were meant to be seen will be all the more magical. It’s impossible for a home screening to … create an intoxicating atmosphere as Bond gives chase, or Marcello Mastroianni raises an eyebrow.”

More importantly he points out that “the record-breaking box office of Oscar-winner Parasite in western countries shows how cinema is also becoming a truly more globalized enterprise.”

Right now, we can’t imagine how each of us will emerge from this pandemic storm but globally there will be shifts. Strengthening our understanding that everyone shares common hardships and can work together on common goals, and our empathy with other cultures, will have many ripples. I expect The Civic will be there in those ripples. Take care.

Brian May is a board member of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society and a hopeful gardner.

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