At the risk of pouring any more salt into the wound of 2020, Los Angeles was set to see a renaissance for film culture that had been years in the making. With the planned openings of the Academy Museum and Vidiots’ new haunts in Eagle Rock, two new full-time venues were set to join a number of theaters now hitting their stride, whether it was the rejuvenated New Beverly with Quentin Tarantino’s hand-picked programming and an ever-expanding selection of bottled sodas or the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown where female-led management and surprise filmmaker appearances were already shaking things up.
As any cinephile knows, pressing pause often means killing the momentum, but the pillars of movie watching around Los Angeles haven’t spent the time during the pandemic in vain, with many finding new ways to keep us entertained while it’s safer to stay in and some promising reopen stronger than ever if they can find the support now to stay in business while their doors remain closed. This is a guide to all the great film-related experiences you can currently have from home – and in many cases, anywhere in the U.S. — but also the many ways you can help keep that experience alive in L.A. for when this pandemic passes.
First things first, the city’s preeminent film festival begins on Thursday with the world premiere of the Rachel Brosnahan drama “I’m Your Woman,” but longtime attendees know that the big names afford AFI Fest programmers to dig up deeper cuts from around the globe that may not come around these parts again. That is the case this year where Venice sensation “Apples” and Berlinale hit “Wildland” lead a strong New Auteurs section, and there’s plenty to see in a doc section featuring the idiosyncratic and utterly indelible nonfiction films such as Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez’s “The American Sector” and Lisa Rovner’s “Sisters with Transistors” and true discoveries such as Matt Yoka’s “Whirlybird” and Jessica Earnshaw’s “Jacinta.”
Many selections of festivals that had to be cancelled earlier this year as a result of the coronavirus are finally being unveiled at AFI including SXSW picks’ Angel Kristi Williams’ “Really Love” and Kelly Oxford’s “Pink Skies Ahead” and while you often can see the future of cinema at AFI, particularly in their ever-impressive global shorts programming, the festival has a number of worthwhile career tribute conversations with the likes of Rita Moreno, Kirby Dick, Sofia Coppola and Mira Nair, whose first miniseries “A Suitable Boy” is one of the festival’s special presentations, and a much-deserved spotlight on ’90s Black Cinema with the Cinema Legacy’s sidebar programmed by Racquel Gates featuring the Hughes Brothers’ “Dead Presidents,” Leslie Harris’ “Just Another Girl on the IRT,” Mario Van Peebles’ “Posse” and Cheryl Dunye’s “The Watermelon Woman.” (Twitter, Instagram)
It speaks volumes that on the occasion of the virtual cinema release of Pietro Marcello’s “Martin Eden” coming to the States after a celebrated festival run that saw the Italian director take top honors at Toronto in the Platform section and star Luca Marinelli get cast soon after in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Old Guard,” setting both on track to take over the world, Acropolis Cinema founder Jordan Cronk booked Marcello’s 2009 debut “The Mouth of the Wolf” as a follow-up. Since 2016, Cronk has been carving out a place in Los Angeles to raise the profile of auteurs such as Hong Sang-soo, Bi Gan and Cristi Puiu, among others, before they catch on even with most critics, going so far as to bring entire festivals such as Locarno and Film at Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real to the west coast and supplying comprehensive program notes online for every film. If Cronk has valiantly navigated a theatrical ecosystem in the city that is largely unfriendly to experimental work and taken it upon himself to create his own following for it, the pandemic has been just one more obstacle to overcome and Acropolis has adapted to the virtual cinema model as well as anyone with Cronk’s careful curation now available to anyone living in the States. (Twitter, Instagram)
2020 was bound to be a transitional year for the American Cinematheque after they struck a deal with Netflix to sell the legendary Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, a pact which would give the organization financial stability, the theater some much-needed renovations and retain the prime days of programming at the theater — the weekends — while allowing for more robust scheduling at the Aero across town. That creative thinking about the sustainability necessary to carry the nonprofit into its fourth decade has been demonstrated time and again during the pandemic when the doors to both their theaters have had to remain shut, but they’ve opened a number of others.
Despite plenty of death being involved in the annual genre extravaganza Beyond Fest, organizers refused to let the event itself face such a fate by booking the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair for world premieres of films including Jim Cummings’ “Wolf of Snow Hollow” and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s “Archenemy,” with a healthy show of approval from the loud blare of car horns that greeted each film, and likeminded filmgoers will be happy to hear that while most of this year’s Recent Spanish Cinema series will be going on virtually, the Mission Tiki will open once more for its opening night October 22nd with a double bill of Alex de la Iglesia’s “Day of the Beast” and “Perdita Durango.”
But the Cinematheque has been drawing on their considerable institutional strength too, opening their vaults to put video of Q & As from past screenings online and building around them in the new podcast The American Cinematheque Show, hosted by Grant Moninger, to look back at obscure corners of Hollywood history. Although these have been made available for free, the benefits of being a member of the Cinematheque have never been greater as they’ve put together truly special tributes to Miranda July and the late Lynn Shelton over the summer. The best part? The Cinematheque has made it so members can enjoy these substantial online perks without starting the clock on the others that traditionally come when they’re physically open until it’s safe to come back, making this a great time to join, stretch the value of your dollar and support a most worthwhile place. (Twitter, Instagram)
This time a year ago, Ava DuVernay opened up ARRAY’s creative campus to the public with the Amanda Theater, a place that would not only give a proper showcase to the films that her distribution arm ARRAY would release before making their way onto Netflix, but to lift up filmmakers whose work may not have received its proper due in the past and making connections to contemporary work through the shrewd programming choices of Mercedes Cooper. Although the Amanda hasn’t been able to reopen just yet – notably, its last public screenings doubled as a voter registration drive, the women of ARRAY have been busy, bringing some much needed joy to the community with drive-in screenings of “Selena” and “Purple Rain” in August and initiating the Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP) in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, recently deploying billboards across the city encouraging action.
They’ve also continued to put out a number of great films currently available to stream on Netflix throughout the pandemic including Stephanie Turner’s “Justine,” Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” and Merawi Gerima’s “Residue,” with Takeshi Fukunaga’s Tribeca-approved coming-of-age drama “Ainu Mosir” arriving in November, and have fostered a sense of community on their must follow Twitter feed where filmmakers routinely participate in watch parties. If you haven’t been able to catch one of those yet, you can join the fun as early as this week when ARRAY will get the spotlight at AFI Fest where DuVernay and ARRAY President Tilane Jones will be accompanied by filmmakers whose work ARRAY has released throughout the years. (Twitter, Instagram)
As anyone who has contemplated their streaming subscription options from the Criterion Channel and Mubi to Disney+ and Netflix and found that none of them offer anywhere near a majority of films that they seek, the value of Cinefile Video, now in its 21st year on the corner of Sawtelle and Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A., has increased exponentially over the years. Long a home to the eclectic and obscure – a VHS of the work print of James L. Brooks’ “I’ll Do Anything” with its musical numbers intact was kept behind the counter – the 50,000-strong collection is now where you can rent a Disney title and a Warner Brothers title without having to worry about paying for multiple apps in addition to thousands of films that may never appear online. Since the pandemic started, you can’t lose yourself in browsing the aisles abound with intriguing box covers as once was the case, but now taking orders over the phone (310.312.8836) from Wednesday through Sunday 11 am -7 pm, Cinefile has made it possible to check out their entire catalog online and expanded the availability of every rental, including new releases, to seven days, as well as keeping up a $30 monthly membership that allows for any four titles at a time with no late fees. (A yearly membership comes with one month free.) (Twitter, Instagram)
Five years ago, Darrell Hodges opened Foreign Exchange inside a humble Brazilian mall in Culver City and with limited space and hours has still managed to fit the entire world of movies in the small shop. Turning an ability to spot deals abroad online into a secret stash for the most adventurous of cinephiles, Hodges has pulled off the improbable with importing international films — and many American ones – that have gone unreleased in the States on Blu-ray, or at all, and offering them at rates you’d be hard-pressed to find any lower on eBay. Anyone anywhere can take advantage of Hodges’ eagle eye since he keeps a robust online shop to accompany his physical store, and while a multi-region Blu-ray player is necessary to enjoy most of what Foreign Exchange sells, Hodges gladly takes care of the rest, taking requests for what he should stock and regularly listing new inventory on Twitter where you often don’t know how bad you want that Eureka collection of Sammo Hung films or Frank Borage’s “Magnificent Doll” until it comes across the transom. (Instagram)
Southern California’s proudly independent arthouse chain has been dearly missed and CEO Greg Laemmle hasn’t made it a secret that there’s been mounting pressure without being able to put butts in seats since March, putting the Claremont 5 on the block. The closures have seemed like a particular shame when Laemmle had invested heavily in upgrading the Monica and Royal in recent years as well as opening a new theater in Glendale and breaking ground on another in Newhall, and built a strong repertory series of classic films to accompany the wide array of foreign and independent fare they bring into town every week. They’ve been able to salvage at least some of that with around 60 new releases offer on average at their virtual cinema where Premiere Card holders still get their discount on 3-day rentals of films, but better yet for those who miss the whole Laemmle experience, they’ve begun “Popcorn Pop-Ups” where you can pick up concessions to go along with movies at home. The chain has also teamed up with the Roadium Drive-in in the South Bay for Thursday night outdoor screenings, and have gift cards available to support them at this time. (Twitter, Instagram)
With less than a month to go until deciding whether or not they can afford to renew their lease on the Music Hall in Beverly Hills, Luis Orellana, Lauren Brown and Peter Ambrosio have launched a GoFundMe to save the Lumiere Cinema, already having made the bold decision to reclaim the theater when their former employer Laemmle gave up on it in fall of last year. The trio made sure that no one would notice much of a difference in the experience when the arthouse haven changed hands, except for a snazzy new billboard out front on Wilshire Boulevard, but they did introduce a fresh approach to programming at the theater, savvily divvying up showtimes to play a host of gems from around the world and the U.S. festival circuit that so often never find a big screen home in L.A. Unlike a lot of theaters that have pivoted to a virtual cinema during the pandemic, their current selection of titles reflects the diversity and breadth of films you could expect to see there on any given week, making the most of their three physical cinemas, yet without being able to open the theater physically, the promise of the best-curated first-run theater in Los Angeles threatens to end before it can truly get started. (Twitter, Instagram)
You know you’re in a good video store when sections start to stray from alphabetical order and at the South Pasadena oasis Videotheque, the addictive quality of thumbing through one director’s filmography in its entirety after another provides an welcome alternative to binge-watching TV series. With aisles arranged in part by country and auteurs as well as an extraordinarily diverse new release section, it’s easy to find a new obsession at Videotheque and be led to a new adventure, particularly when there are pre-paid rental packages where more of a commitment you make, the cheaper the films are to take out. ($200 will get you 100 rentals, though 10 for $35 is still a great deal.) Featuring a 40,000-plus collection of Blu-rays and DVDs in addition to a nice selection of vinyl, the store has recently reopened to socially distanced browsing with a limited amount of customers allowed in at any time, though calling in and reserving movies is still encouraged and the entire rental catalog can be perused online. (Twitter, Instagram)
If everything had gone according to plan, the reimagined Vidiots would be basking in their grand opening in Eagle Rock right now, dusting off their 50,000-plus collection of DVDs, Blu-rays and VHS that founders Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber were forced to put away when rising rent brought an end to their landmark business in Santa Monica. Rechristened as a nonprofit and a true community hub by relocating to the Eagle Theater where there will now be a 200-seat venue for events as well as a smaller 40-seat space in addition to its voluminous video holdings, Vidiots has already started the work of previewing what a nifty place it will be with a series of virtual events over the summer, with Vidiots Executive Director Maggie Mackay spearheading a companion screening series for the recent season of board member Karina Longworth’s “You Must Remember This” podcast about the life and work of Polly Platt and bringing in guest hosts like “Greener Grass” co-stars/directors Dawn Luebbe and Jocelyn deBoer for a monthly trivia night.
The foundation has already cultivated an impressive group of founding members including Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass, “One Night in Miami” producers Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder, Mackenzie Davis, Phil Lord, Patton Oswalt, Aubrey Plaza, and Paul Scheer and June Raphael, among others, but refurbishing the Eagle and creating a sustainable creative center of this size surely doesn’t come cheap, making this the right time to donate and although they haven’t yet physically relaunched, they’re already offering hope for future of film culture in Los Angeles. (Twitter, Instagram)
Various Other Virtuosity
UCLA Film and Television Archive may not yet be able to hold screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater, but they’ve carried on screenings online in their virtual screening room with free screenings in the offing of the rare Chicano indie “Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive!” (Oct. 15), the rarely screened made-for-TV terror “The Screaming Skull” (Oct. 22), and the frightening Fay Wray starrer “The Vampire Bat” (Oct. 29), just in time for Halloween with a newly restored Gustav Brock color sequence…The Voyager Institute’s Bret Berg launched the Museum of Home Video, showing off the compelling found footage ephemera that he’s collected through the years every Tuesday on Twitch, the only place nowadays where you could see Jerry Lewis Telethon highlights on Labor Day or Isabella Rosselini in Guy Maddin’s “Green Porno.”… The International Documentary Association Screening Series, where over 30 of the year’s best nonfiction films are set to screen over the next three months complete with Q & As, and Film Independent, which has offered weekly screenings and will soon offer screeners to all nominees of the Spirit Awards, both offer memberships for less than $100, with proceeds going back to support filmmakers.