While the virtual cinema space has started looking a lot more like traditional theaters as major studios have turned their attention to streaming, offering up blockbusters that they would’ve never thought to premiere online before the pandemic and dominating the lion’s share of attention, a number of exciting platforms have emerged or reestablished themselves in this time, taking advantage of a more direct relationship to audiences and a value in catering to specific niches without having to worry about filling up a theater at a set time. With a cheap HDMI-to-displayport cable from your computer to your TV, you can create your own big screen experience at home with some of the world’s greatest programming minds doing much of the work. These are a few oases in this wild wild west of streaming that are well worth checking out this summer.
Launching this past weekend, the British Film Institute has opened up a platform for Americans to take in the full extent of their remarkable history with BFI Player Classics, set up to open the doors to the world’s largest film and TV archive. Starting with 200 films selected by BFI experts, the new subscription on demand service is refreshingly straightforward, running on Vimeo technology, but its selection is sprawling with a number of hard-to-find titles from a diverse array of filmmakers.
Ealing comedies “The Ladykillers” and “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and classics such as “The Third Man” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth” are naturally headliners, but for anyone who has spent time through DVD stacks in vain for British films that weren’t released by a major American studio on this side of the pond, it is remarkable to have first features of Sally Potter (“The Gold Diggers”), Ken Russell (“French Dressing”) and Tony Scott (“Loving Memory”) at the ready with just a click of a play button and even more admirable that the collection is reflective of the full breadth of the British experience from Horace Ové’s groundbreaking 1975 feature “Pressure” and future “Blinded By the Light” director Gurinder Chadha’s 1989 charming short “I’m British But…”(Start streaming here)
After establishing itself as one of the best movie theaters in New York, if not the U.S., almost immediately after opening in 2016, the Metrograph put as much thought into seeing a movie on the online platform they’ve built as they did for their auditoriums while their doors have been shut. Remarkably, at $50, the cost for a one-year membership is about what three tickets would cost at the theater and the programming has been just as robust, fulfilling the expectation of seeing more than just seeing a movie when films are accompanied by shorts, guest introductions and/or Q & As.
Currently, the Metrograph has partnered with the Chicago Film Society for “Leader Ladies,” a celebration of celluloid – and the women that have kept it alive, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes – that runs the gamut from Sarah Jacobson’s “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore” to Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” with plenty of rare shorts to be discovered in between. One-night-only live screenings (with a little leeway within a 24-hour window) have recreated the sensation of appointment viewing and indeed, there are screenings you want to be around for, whether it’s a rare opportunity to see Robert Altman’s “Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” presented by Michael Koresky in honor of his new book “Films of Endearment: A Mother, a Son and the ’80s Films That Defined Us,” or a 30th anniversary screening of Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” the following night introduced by Creatively Speaking’s Michelle Materre. Ongoing series include the full run of Orson Welles’ 1955 travel series “Around the World” through June 20th, which dovetails with the June introduction of a 16-film Werner Herzog retrospective. (Start streaming here)
Although it should be recognized as one of the pioneers of streaming services after 14 years in the game, MUBI has reinvented itself quite a bit this past year, even while not straying far from its roots as a virtual arthouse, tastefully curated and often bringing international cinema to countries where it would otherwise be unavailable. What has changed is a more aggressive approach to acquisitions, first making a splash as the exclusive home for Paul Thomas Anderson’s 54-minute doc “Junun” in 2015 and gradually incorporating new films alongside classics, recently sorting out the premiere of “Birds of Prey” director Cathy Yan’s wild and wonderful debut “Dead Pigs” after it disappeared after its Sundance premiere and being the only place you could see one of last year’s best films in Dea Kulumbegashvili’s transfixing Georgian drama “Beginning.”
With the promise of a film that’s new to the service added every day, you’re bound to get something special, whether it’s the recent premiere of “Happy as Lazzaro” director Alice Rohrwacher’s latest short “Four Roads”, this week’s premiere of Sergei Loznitza’s “State Funeral” or the upcoming “Sweat,” Magnus von Horn’s Cannes-approved drama about a social media sensation in addition to such inspired thematic pairings as the mountaineering double bill of “Meru” and “North Face”, a tribute to the experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer or ‘70s terror with Argento and Romero. (Start streaming here)
Museum of Home Video
Anyone in Los Angeles who has had their eyes pop out at a pre-show or even an entire feature-long program of archival oddities in recent years likely has Bret Berg to thank. A former manager at Cinefile Video, Berg could be could be counted on for under-the-counter suggestions, films that were never made available for one reason or another or simply too strange to be commercially released and as the internet has let more and more share things that may have only aired once late night on cable in Arkansas, he has gradually compiled an unparalleled collection of pop culture ephemera.
With theaters closed, he and Jenny Nixon have found a home for all this madness on Twitch every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm, often inviting L.A.’s finest programming minds into the mix for an hour-and-a-half packed with entertainment, whether it’s wild talk show appearances, sincere tributes to the likes of Bill Paxton or holiday celebrations — now the only place on Labor Day now to see highlights from the Jerry Lewis Telethon. After Berg once oversaw the popular five-minute game in town where he’d show the first five minutes from random film canisters and let the audience pick which film to watch the entirety of, the Museum has made the most of its medium to become an active experience, incorporating the online chat available with Twitch to create a true communal event. (Start streaming here)
Kentucker Audley started off his “curated self-release” platform innocently enough a decade ago when his third feature “Open Five” had trouble finding a distributor in spite of glowing reviews from The New York Times and The New Yorker, giving himself a home that was far more inviting than your typical online video sites for audiences to watch the film free of charge. With his deep ties to the indie film community, it wasn’t long before Audley opened things up for others facing the same predicament, leading to one of the most adventurous spaces on the web. True to its title, the work being presented didn’t involve budgets much more than it cost to watch, but with passion and invention making up for financial resources, the place of discovery for experimental and alt comedy filmmakers, as well as others finding their voice, has been powerful as a collective with one film bringing attention to another and Audley creating events around the work he’s assembled.
Now moving into its second decade, the streaming service is keeping a free version of the site, but has newly christened NoBudge2, a $5.99 monthly subscription version (or $54.99 for a year) that will compensate filmmakers and help pay the costs of maintaining the ever-growing collection of films that entices not only with full access to the archives but an easy-to-use app available on Apple TV, Roku, Android and Amazon Fire TV, a collaboration with Factory 25 to offer the indie stalwart’s titles and the ability to curate entire collections such as a look back at the filmographies of “Crestone” co-conspirators Marnie Ellen Hertzler and Corey Hughes. (Start streaming here)
Oscilloscope and Mailchimp
These two strange bedfellows were together by unusual circumstance last spring when SXSW was forced to cancel their 2020 Film Festival and attempted to salvage what they could for filmmakers by creating a platform for all the shorts. A year later, this shotgun marriage has been a resounding success, not only making available such gems from this year’s SXSW such as “Plant Heist,” “Plaisir,” “Are You Still There?” and “Sisters” but extending the partnership to presenting features, using the occasion of Small Business Week to offer free streams of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Chef Flynn,” “Indie Game: The Movie” and “Hands on a Hard Body,” along with shorts “Rebyrth Wellness,” “Quilt Fever” and “BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop” and “Welcome to the Last Bookstore,” all stories of entrepreneurs that entertain with their own ingenuity. (Start streaming here)
Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Short Film Tour
After long making the screening of Native American and Indigenous filmmakers’ shorts and features a priority at the annual film fest in January and offering a dedicated filmmaking lab (NativeLab), the Sundance Institute has extended this support to greater exhibition of this vital work, with the creation of an 85-minute program of recent Sundance Film Fest-selected shorts available for free, showcasing a number of exciting new voices working in various modes of expression from animation (Alisi Telengut’s “The Fourfold”) to nonfiction (Ciara Lacy’s “This is the Way We Rise”) to drama (Erica Tremblay’s “Little Chief”). Unlike the other platforms mentioned, this one is only staying up through June 30th, but its reach will hopefully go beyond what is on display, additionally acting as a sampler to whet the appetite for other films recently made available online either in general release or on the festival circuit, such as Sky Hopkina’s feature “Małni—Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore” and the latest shorts program “Cousins and Kin” from the Indigenous collective Cousin, founded by Hopkina, Adam Khalil, Alexandra Lazarowich and Sundance programmer Adam Piron, which is currently circulating, making its latest stop at Vancouver’s DOXA Film Fest. (Start streaming here)