As with everything else right now, the cinematic landscape is changing day by day, hour by hour as people wrestle with COVID-19. But this week most movie screens in Canada went dark.
Cineplex, the largest movie theatre chain in Canada with 165 cinemas across the country, announced Tuesday that it would close its doors until April 2. Vancouver’s independent cinemas The Cinemateque and the Rio also closed this week, with plans to reopen April 15. And Vancity Theatre suspended all screenings with plans to resume business Thursday, April 16 “at the earliest” and invites regulars to the downtown not-for-profit theatre to help them during this challenging time by purchasing gift cards for future showings at viff.org. A press release from Vancity further says “Since VIFF’s inception, we’ve sought to further empathy and understanding through the art of cinema. We encourage everyone to take this opportunity to demonstrate those attributes as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances as global citizens.”
We’re not alone, of course. Stateside, AMC theatres – which had already been limiting audiences to 50 people or less – are now closed for six to 12 weeks. Regal closed all 543 of its theatres “until further notice”. Movie houses in Quebec were ordered closed for a two-week period while home of the Toronto International Film Festival – the Lightbox – has closed until April 14. The same goes for theatres in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as in other major cities.
Some of the season’s biggest releases had already been scuttled to a later date. Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan was bumped, and the 25th Bond film – No Time to Die – moved from April to a November release date. Paramount Pictures pulled A Quiet Place Part II, starring Emily Blunt, saying “we believe in and support the theatrical experience, and we look forward to bringing this film to audiences this year once we have a better understanding of the impact of this pandemic on the global theatrical marketplace.”
In an unprecedented move, NBCUniversal announced earlier this week that recently released Universal titles The Invisible Man and The Hunt, plus Focus Features’ Emma, will be made available on demand as early as this weekend at a suggested price of $19.99 for a 48-hour rental period. “Given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers’ daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home as well as in theaters,” read NBCUniversal’s release. DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, set to open in theaters April 10, will hit home audiences the very same day. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available,” said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, “but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”
Independent movies are going the same route. For example, Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, debuted during Critics’ Week at Cannes and was set for a March 27 release. But, lucky you! Canadian distributors Mongrel Media announced that the film will be available on the Apple TV app and VOD March 31.
So what can a housebound cinephile to do? There are top-10 pandemic movie lists all over the internet, if panic is your thing, but here are a few other film-related activities you can do while self-isolating as much as possible:
Stream, Stream, Stream
There is a reason that #QuarantineAndChill is trending right now: the masses are streaming their hearts out. Services that usually offer free trial periods are being extra generous during this time. Acorn TV, which specializes in Canadian, British and Australian dramas, comedies and thrillers, is offering a free 30-day trial for new subscribers (just sign up at acorn.tv and enter the special code FREE30). Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix also offer 30 days; you can enjoy Criterion’s collection for 14 days, while many others such as Disney Plus and Britbox are available free for a week.
Rent – yes, you can still rent – a movieTo press time, Videomatica and both Vancouver locations of Black Dog Video were open for business (check websites for updated info). There are a few mom-and-pop shops scattered around the city that rent, too. Go old-school and rent a flick… just promise to be quick.
Curate your collection
If you’re like me you have a pretty impressive collection, culled somewhat over the years by garage sales and trips to the charity shop, of DVDs. If you’re also like me, however, your kids won’t even look at them, preferring the one-click convenience of On Demand. If your family is guilty of this, rediscover old favourites and titles you never even got to among those lonely DVDs gathering dust on the shelf.
The Oscar goes to… me!
I also have a few – wait for it – VHS tapes of my six months spent in Japan (recorded on a camera so big it sat on my shoulder) and my disastrous first appearance on cable TV. Dust off the VCR in your closet (you know it’s there somewhere) and cue family memories you haven’t relived for a while. Nothing distracts from a pandemic like really embarrassing footage from your childhood!
You’ve seen the movie, now read the book
OK, so you might not be up to reading all 864 pages of Anna Karenina to see if Keira Knightly nailed it in the 2012 film version, but how about dusting off that childhood copy of Little Women, downloading Gone Girl on your device, or ordering Crazy Rich Asians online? Better yet, read Dune by Frank Herbert, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, or Agatha Christie’s classic Death on the Nile: all have big-screen adaptations in the works, so you’ll be prepped and ready when the films come out.
Rumours abound that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined by the plague. You’re such a film buff, why not finally put pen to paper and write that story that’s always bouncing around in your head? Who knows: you may just have the next great screenplay at your impeccably sanitized fingertips.
And finally, pledge to get out there when it’s all over. Let’s hope that this enforced embargo on big-screen entertainment makes us realize how much we’ve missed the movies and the shared experience of laughing, sniffling or being terrorized alongside like-minded folks in a darkened theatre. Hang in there, film friends, we can do this.