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Moviegoing During a Pandemic


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As a physician, I was deeply distressed by the content of yesterday's Variety article about AMC's plans to reopen on July 15.  In response, I put together an entire column analyzing AMC's supposed safety plans.  

Here's the concluding paragraph: "As a consequence of this choice, until the science tells me it’s safe to return to theaters, you won’t see reviews for movies here until they’re available on streaming services.  Does it bum me out that I’ll have to wait longer to see Tenet, and that my website traffic might take a hit?  Absolutely.  But knowing that film reviews are free movie publicity, I ethically cannot contribute to AMC’s, Christopher Nolan’s, and Warner Brothers’ revenue streams.  Even in a small way, I won’t be complicit in their decisions to place profit over public safety."

I'd love to hear others' response to this, but just as much, I hope other critics will join me in my choice.

Here's my full article:  https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2020/06/sorry-folks-but-moviegoing-during-a-pandemic-is-unsafe-and-irresponsible/

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Posted (edited)

I'll give this a bump.  I've just asked the President of the Southeast Film Critics Association if he'd consider an organized action where we'd refuse to cover films receiving a theater-only release.  This was inspired by his writing an article of his own in a similar vein to mine:  https://collider.com/movie-theaters-reopening-why-you-shouldnt-go/?fbclid=IwAR10oF34zxluH2RCGQsK-Cw21KYNzxgnf-rcGR9Gf9mgymcCOFXMvedJsvM

Ken, how about something similar for the North Carolina Film Critics Association?  North Carolina is one of five southern states that just saw their highest 7-day bump in new COVID cases, while Tennessee just had its largest single-day increase yesterday.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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4 hours ago, Andrew said:

Ken, how about something similar for the North Carolina Film Critics Association?  North Carolina is one of five southern states that just saw their highest 7-day bump in new COVID cases, while Tennessee just had its largest single-day increase yesterday.

Short answer is not at this time, but things change pretty fast in this landscape. Couple of reservations:
1) In film social media, this sentiment appears to have been prompted by AMC, but there is a difference between boycotting a particular theater chain and not covering any movie. The target appears to shift from trying to mandate the theater chain to be more responsible to trying to pressure the studio to not release the film or release via streaming. 

2) NCFCA (and other organizations) are made up of members in different situations. If someone was close to a local independent theater (like Alamo or that bar in Phoenix that was renting out theaters for groups of 10+, or the drive-in theaters that are being revitalized) the lines don't seem as black and white between safe/unsafe. 

3) Most critics are freelancers (at least in NCFCA), but if someone has a job, the consequences of "refusing" to cover might be different for them than others. 

4) Critics routinely cover films (such as as festivals) that aren't available to all/most people. I am skeptical of the notion that a critic reviewing a film somehow frees people to go or validates it. 

5) For the NCFCA to "make this an "organization action" (as opposed to a recommendation) begs the "or what question." And any punitive action seems unenforceable. I mean, I guess the answer for the "or what" question would be "or you'll be dropped from membership roster" but I'm not sure I want to get in the business of auditing members or telling them what they can and can't review. 

 

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My thoughts on each of these bullet points:

1) As I wrote in my article, I don't think there's a single entity that bears the guilt alone here.  I see that theaters and film companies together are putting profit over people in making this choice. 

2) The public health experts (like the epidemiologists I cite from the NYT article) contend that all of those options are unsafe, just at different levels of risk.

3) This one I can't argue with; folks have to put bread on their table.  But a statement like the one I'm proposing could give leverage for critics in such a situation to say I'm not going to put my body, my family, and my community in harm's way to go to a cinema.

4) But festivals are not the workaday norm for a film critic.  And we do give free publicity by virtue of publishing reviews.  I think a statement that "attending cinemas is unethical in a pandemic, so we're not gonna play your game" would carry some weight.

5) I'm not interested in going punitive, not in the slightest.  I would hope any statement from an organization would be arrived at by a democratic process, only published if there was near-unanimity.  If there's not a consensus, then individuals in favor of it could say, "well, we tried, and here's why I'm making this choice anyway, independent of my professional organization."  

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Andrew, I don't really want to have this conversation and certainly not here, but you directed a specific question about a specific action to me, so I felt I needed to respond. I am not going to get into what seems to me a very unlikely to be fruitful back and forth about the nuts and bolts of dozens of different hypotheticals. (It seems to me that you've already shifted from a call for some sort of unified action to a call for some sort of non-binding resolution. )

So this will be my last word in this thread. You are, of course, welcome to continue asking for other responses.

Quote

 

The public health experts (like the epidemiologists I cite from the NYT article) contend that all of those options are unsafe, just at different levels of risk ...

 I think a statement that "attending cinemas is unethical in a pandemic...."

 

Given the first sentence, I think the second is overly broad, and thus not one that I would feel comfortable endorsing and certainly not mandating to a membership (which was the form of the question posed to me).

Don't get me wrong, some (incalculable number of) people will die because they choose to go see Mulan. Just as some will die because they chose to get a haircut or go back to colleges with face to face classes. Worse, some people (like that pastor in Arkansas whose church became a local epicenter) will indirectly kill other people, perhaps knowingly, perhaps unknowingly, to go see Tenet. There is, however, a fairly large spectrum between least possible risk (everyone shelter at home by law until there is a vaccine that everyone is mandated to take and in the meantime the government pays a living wage to everyone out of work and hazard pay to essential workers who determined by.....) and greatest possible risk (ignoring common sense and proceeding as normal). Given the number of variables and the constantly amassing amount of data, as well as the social and political climate, I see more upside to informing the public than trying to manipulate their choices. No matter what is proposed, it seems evident to me that no proposal will be without any risk and that there will always be some who propose we could do something else that had even less risk. 

I don't know yet under what circumstances, if any, I would attend a screening. But the day I have to decide, while not far off, isn't here yet. And I'm not willing at this time to commit to saying I won't review "x," (or cover it in any way) if I can do so with the amount of risk that is commensurate to other non-essential activities. 

EDIT: Given what I've seen already in response to AMC and the mask thing, changes in decisions will be more likely based on people saying they won't attend or actually not attending than critics saying they won't review. I am having a hard time envisaging the sliver of the population that says, "this is unsafe, and normally I woudn't go, but Ken reviewed it, so I'm gonna chance it..."

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No worries, Ken.  I perceive that I've peeved you with this line of discussion, so I won't press any further.  (And FWIW, I mulled asking you privately about this, but thought it could be an interesting public conversation.  I probably judged wrong there.)  Regardless, I'm more blustery and in favor of direct action, while you're more prone to quieter statements, so I'm not surprised at the outcome here.  (And as someone who spends a fair bit of time with my nose in medical literature, and whose wife is a full-time hospital worker, the trend of COVID numbers scares the shit out of me and prompts me to respond in character.)  Peace, be well, etc.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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  • 2 months later...
Posted (edited)

Here's how the AV Club is handling things.  I think it's morally questionable and somewhat elitist to see a movie that you can safely screen at home, but that plebeians can only watch in a cinema, but it's a move in the right direction: https://film.avclub.com/the-new-mutants-finally-opens-this-week-here-s-why-we-1844833667?rev=1598368725725

Here's their convo with a couple of epidemiologists on the subject: https://film.avclub.com/please-don-t-go-to-a-movie-theater-it-s-just-about-th-1844756993

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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The LA Times disclaimer accompanying all reviews of films opening in theaters:

For your safety
For your safety
The Los Angeles Times is committed to reviewing new theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries inherent risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can see each new picture, including drive-in theaters in the Southland and VOD/streaming options when available.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Darrel Manson said:

The LA Times disclaimer accompanying all reviews of films opening in theaters:

For your safety
For your safety
The Los Angeles Times is committed to reviewing new theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries inherent risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can see each new picture, including drive-in theaters in the Southland and VOD/streaming options when available.

And this is how rogerebert.com started their Tenet review: "For transparency’s sake, it feels important to state that this film was screened for limited press in Chicago with extreme precautions that simply won’t be in place for most ticket buyers at least for weeks, including 1% capacity of a huge, sanitized theater first thing in the morning. The intent of this review is not to encourage or discourage anyone from attending a theatrical screening at this specific time. It is an analysis of the work itself for posterity."

A bundle of thoughts/reactions come to mind, that I'll probably organize into an essay at some point:

- These strike me as "do as I say, not as I do" statements.  And as a parent, I know which example has the greatest impact.

- C'mon, they could've written their reviews 'for posterity,' once it's safe for everyone to watch the films.  Solidarity through a health crisis will be more significant for posterity than a f**king movie review.

- It's hard not to see this as a symptom of the greater selfishness in our country that has hamstrung our ability to put a lid on this pandemic.  And with my wife and her colleagues treating COVID patients daily (one of whom thought a pandemic was a swell time to visit Vegas), and thus putting themselves and their families at risk, it's hard not to take this extremely personally.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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So, I saw Tenet last night in a movie theatre. First time in a theatre since the pandemic was declared in March.

People can judge the choice for themselves, but given the situation in Canada and my town in Ontario, which I acknowledge is very, very different from the US at this point, I believe it was very low risk. Frankly, most people probably still aren't aware that movie theatres are open, or don't value them if they do. That's fine. There were literally 7 people total in a 400 capacity theatre. We wore masks, there was physical distancing with assigned seating and row by row exit. I did not feel any less safe than I would going to the grocery store.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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2 hours ago, Anders said:

We wore masks, there was physical distancing with assigned seating and row by row exit.

Does that mean you couldn't stay for the credits without disrupting the exit procedure? That would bother me as an inveterate credits-watcher. Not that I could really blame the theaters for not worrying about this, since I'm literally the only person I know who insists on sitting through the credits every time.

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It was so sparsely attended it wasn’t an issue in this case (my brother and I stayed for about half the credits and were last to leave), but if it were full and you were seated near the side of a row it might be an issue. 

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

Twitter.
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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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The beloved Cinema Arts theater near our home opened yesterday. I asked Sarah if she was interested in seeing The Personal History of David Copperfield. "We could refill our popcorn bucket for $1 -- and maybe get COVID-19!" I told her, conflicted. She said she's not comfortable going to the movies yet, and I quickly agreed. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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22 hours ago, Anders said:

So, I saw Tenet last night in a movie theatre. First time in a theatre since the pandemic was declared in March.

People can judge the choice for themselves, but given the situation in Canada and my town in Ontario, which I acknowledge is very, very different from the US at this point, I believe it was very low risk. Frankly, most people probably still aren't aware that movie theatres are open, or don't value them if they do. That's fine. There were literally 7 people total in a 400 capacity theatre. We wore masks, there was physical distancing with assigned seating and row by row exit. I did not feel any less safe than I would going to the grocery store.

I can only wish our situation compared to Canada's:  5000 active cases for a country of 37.5 million.  Meanwhile, my region (East Tennessee) has 3252 active cases in a region of 600K people.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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On 8/31/2020 at 4:23 AM, Andrew said:

Andrew, I really appreciate your take on this issue. I can definitely speak from first-hand experience about how emotionally and psychologically taxing the isolation from the lockdown can be; and because of that experience, I desperately want to resume normal life and be able to visit movie theaters and attend museum exhibits and have leisurely meals at restaurants with friends, and I can understand when people just get tired of the lockdown and, for relief, leave their homes and go places, even if they're cognizant of the danger. But, here in Southern California, where the infection rates are still high, and where it's so crowded that any activity in public will bring you into close contact with others, I just can't see myself returning to a movie theater for quite some time, even for a while after the county, the governor, LA's mayor, et. al. gives everyone the all-clear (whenever that might be). 

As I was reading your essay, I was reminded of something that I occasionally bring up when having discussions about masks and social distancing. It's a couple of tweets from an ICU nurse who has seen first-hand what the virus does to people: "COVID 19 is the worst disease process I’ve ever worked with in my 8 years as an ICU nurse. When they say “recovered” they don’t tell you that that means you may need a lung transplant. Or that you may come back after d/c with a massive heart attack or stroke bc COVID makes your blood thick as hell. Or that you may have to be on oxygen for the rest of your life. COVID is designed to kill. It is a highly intelligent virus and it attacks everything. We will run out of resources if we don’t continue to flatten the curve. I’m exhausted." This is why I wear a mask and keep my distance and stay away from public places (other than the grocery store). It's really tough, but I would never want to contract this virus or pass it on to someone I love. And with the way some (not all) of the movie theaters in the LA area are run, I couldn't be confident that the theater staff would be as vigilant as necessary to keep everything safe.

But being in a darkened theater, looking at a large screen, especially at a repertory house: I really miss that experience.

 

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Thanks, Michael.  I definitely feel the same pain:  I miss the 2-3 times per month treks to Asheville for a movie and yummy meal with my wife; and in a normal year, we'd be departing for the Toronto Film Fest in 9 days (first year we're missing it since 2014 or 2015).

And the ICU nurse is spot on: recent studies on the rates of cardiac disease with COVID are frankly scary and leave me wondering if a cardiac workup will become standard for all but the mildest cases.  As a mental health professional, I'm seeing higher rates of depression and anxiety, too, as the pandemic continues largely unabated in the US - far worse in July and August than in preceding months.  For the first time last week, I treated my first COVID survivor who's still traumatized by the experience, plus my first patient who'd lost someone to it.  I won't be surprised if they're the first of many.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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4 hours ago, Andrew said:

For the first time last week, I treated my first COVID survivor who's still traumatized by the experience, plus my first patient who'd lost someone to it.  I won't be surprised if they're the first of many.

Gosh, sorry to hear that, Andrew -- it's a sobering reminder of how varied and deep the effects of this pandemic really are. I always want to pull my hair out whenever I hear someone say: "what's the big deal with Covid? It's just like having a normal flu."

I don't know enough about the movie theater business or enough about film distribution to predict with any certainty what will become of theaters and patterns of distribution in the long term. But I suspect that if this pandemic continues for quite some time (which it probably will), it's hard not to see it as game-changing for movie-going. 

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14 hours ago, Michael S said:

I don't know enough about the movie theater business or enough about film distribution to predict with any certainty what will become of theaters and patterns of distribution in the long term. But I suspect that if this pandemic continues for quite some time (which it probably will), it's hard not to see it as game-changing for movie-going. 

I know I've discovered that there are a boatload of independent or smaller-scale films - too many for my nearby arthouse cinemas to keep up with - that have kept me enjoying new films twice weekly.  And even at that pace, I still have a page full of new films since March that I could turn to if the pipeline runs dry.  I've got to think that smaller distributors are noticing this and will keep their use of streaming services ramped up.  I would not be surprised to see more films skipping theaters altogether, even when it's safe to return to them.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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12 hours ago, Andrew said:

I would not be surprised to see more films skipping theaters altogether, even when it's safe to return to them.

I'm getting the sense of this as well -- including films that stream but require a price that's equal to that of a movie-theater ticket because they are truly new releases, as opposed to, say, a movie that's had a theater run and then becomes new to Netflix or Amazon.

Out of curiosity, what services do you use to keep up on independent and smaller-scale films? One of the art-house theater chains out here, Laemmle, has been streaming new independent films (for full-price movie-theater admission, granted). I just haven't taken the time yet to stream anything on their site.

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17 hours ago, Michael S said:

Out of curiosity, what services do you use to keep up on independent and smaller-scale films? One of the art-house theater chains out here, Laemmle, has been streaming new independent films (for full-price movie-theater admission, granted). I just haven't taken the time yet to stream anything on their site.

Mainly, I've been using the websites of my two closest arthouse cinemas to stream new films.  Occasionally, the film itself will have a website with a streaming option, so I've used that on occasion (most recently for Werner Herzog's latest, Nomad).  Since I write two reviews per week on average, I scan pages like the NYT Movies section and Roger Ebert to stay current with new releases, without reading their reviews - if I can't find a streaming option on my own, the top or bottom of their reviews often includes info on how to stream the film in question.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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18 hours ago, Michael S said:

Out of curiosity, what services do you use to keep up on independent and smaller-scale films? One of the art-house theater chains out here, Laemmle, has been streaming new independent films (for full-price movie-theater admission, granted). I just haven't taken the time yet to stream anything on their site.

I've been trying in my reviews to post a "where can you see it" hyperlink at the end since most of my reviews come from private links sent by publicist or studio.Generally, I try to steer people to the local theater since they sometimes get a cut, though there are a few services where the studio offers direct download or where a theater has an exclusive. I had one film (I forget which -- I think it was the Hilda af Klimpt documentary??) where the first week you could only rent it through the web site of the Met or Laemelle (NY/LA) and I was either asked to or decided to wait a week to post reviews so that local readers at least would be more likely to rent from one of the local theaters. (I've had one theater rep in NC tell me that ticket sales via virtual have been pretty flat at 10% of what they normally would see for same film/time of year.

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4 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I've been trying in my reviews to post a "where can you see it" hyperlink at the end since most of my reviews come from private links sent by publicist or studio.Generally, I try to steer people to the local theater since they sometimes get a cut, though there are a few services where the studio offers direct download or where a theater has an exclusive. 

Yep, I've been inserting a 'where to watch' link at the end of all my reviews, since my last in-theater viewing in mid-March.

4 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I've had one theater rep in NC tell me that ticket sales via virtual have been pretty flat at 10% of what they normally would see for same film/time of year.

Wow, that's astonishing (I would've thought people sheltering in place were more starved for artistic nourishment) and scary (for the folks running arthouse cinemas trying to stay financially afloat).

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Andrew and Ken -- thanks. Seems like I need to cast a wider net (movie theater websites, online media and film reviews, etc.). For the most part, I've been sticking with Amazon Prime and the Criterion Channel but would like to access a wider array of new releases, especially since I don't intend to return to movie theaters anytime soon and since there's really no telling how long the pandemic will last.

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