Like thousands of other businesses, the Hudson Valley’s independent movie theaters have been forced to shutter their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Running a place where public assembly is required and not being able to is...strange. Difficult. Who knows what the future will bring?” says Steve Leiber, cofounder of Upstate Films, with nonprofit cinemas in Rhinebeck and Woodstock. “Psychologically it’s weird because we are relegated to jumping on the streaming wagon, which normally takes many people away from coming to a theater. When the dust settles and the all-clear blows, I hope to be able to welcome people back."
Until we can all convene in theaters once again and gasp, shriek, laugh, and cry together under cover of darkness, we're stuck at home in our living rooms. Still, this time can be a good opportunity to expand your film repertoire, watch old classics, new independent gems, and award-winning international films.
For our "movie homework," we asked the film buffs behind Hudson Valley's independent movie theaters to point us in the right direction. In addition to their personal recommendations for what to watch in quarantine, many of the local cinemas are offering curated streaming selections online (details below). Now make some popcorn and get to it.
In order to continue offering programming to faithful moviegoers, Upstate Films has launched its virtual screening room with a rotating selection of films you can stream from your home, with a portion of the profits from streaming going to the theater. Current selections include the new Scorsese documentary Once Were Brothers on the meteoric rise of The Band; Cannes Film festival official selection The Whistlers (La Gomera), a crime drama in which a group of mobsters use a secret whistling language to coordinate their movements; and And Then We Danced, a Sundance selection about a group of dancers in the Georgian National Ensemble. For other ways to support Upstate Films, become a member, make a donation, or buy a gift certificate for someone.
A documentary by Godfrey Reggio with ascore by Philip Glass. Released in the early 1980s, the title comes from Hopi word for "life out of balance." When it came out, I saw it at the giant single-screen Ziegfield Theatre in New York City, and it was a mind-blowing experience showing just how tenuous life on earth is, was, and will be. No narration. Just amazing global images and a score that, for me, made Philip Glass Philip Glass. And as the years have rolled by, I often say to myself when seeing what's going on whether climate crisis, pandemic, pain and suffering of humanity, etc., ‘KOYAANISQATSI!’ Available on Amazon Prime. Also available for purchase as part of a boxed DVD set from the Criterion Collection.
Errol Morris's now-classic, which we showed on its release in '88, changed the idea of what a documentary film is or could be into what's come to be known as non-fiction film. Also with a Philip Glass score, this film saved Randall Dale Adams from the death sentence, but what makes it so captivating is the way Morris tells the story with reenactments and stylized pieces of film. Available on Amazon Prime.
This 1992 film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky has a musical score by our locals Jay Ungar and Molly Mason who head the Ashokan Center. Four illiterate brothers living on their run-down, ramshackle, 90-acre farm in Munnsville, NY come center stage when one of the brothers is charged with murdering his "slow" brother. Available on Amazon Prime.
On April 7, the Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre launched its initiative HPAC Live from Home with the first installment of Art on Art Series: Studio Visits, which will offer livestream interviews with local artists from their home studios. Subscribe to their newsletter for information on upcoming virtual offerings. You can also donate to HPAC here.
The tagline for this movie is: “Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.” This film is a joy to watch, a perfect blend of surreal comedy and ingenius storytelling. It’s a great escape from the everyday. As we follow Amelie through her Parisian neighborhood we are reminded to drink in the little joys in life and share them with those we love. It's a wonderful stress reliever and visually stunning. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, his visual style takes you away from your homebound reality. Available on Amazon with Cinemax subscription.
This double feature is a big ol' bag of fun. Leigh Whannell's 2020 film, The Invisible Man, is an extraordinary reworking of a classic film, using an artistic flair with all the trappings and roots of classic horror pictures to produce something that is, quite frankly, genius. It's very humble in its efforts, and it takes advantage at every turn not only to be effective and scary, but to also loosen up and have some fun with its premise. Paul Verhoeven's 2000 directorial venture, Hollow Man? Not so much. But it is a very fascinating way to interpret the metaphors of the classic tale of The Invisible Man, utilizing the horrors of the male gaze, as well as toxic and fragile masculinity, in the same way that Whannell would approach the material two decades later with a different and more subtle spin. Both available for rent on Amazon.
I love Jonathan Demme as a director, and even more so, as a truly empathetic artist that got to work within the big Hollywood system for many years, turning out some of the very best directed work I've laid my eyes on. For one reason or another, I just never got to see Philadelphia, his award-winning follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs. It has always cast a large shadow in the surrounding years of movies, dealing with a storyline that we rarely saw in the early ’90s, but also earning Tom Hanks his very first Oscar win. I can now confirm that the film is easily one of my favorite Demme efforts, where his talent for empathizing emotion in a variety of characters is on full display and used for truly transcending moments. Available on Netflix.
In this time of quarantine, the Woodstock Film festival has launched two new initiatives to connect with viewers in their homes. Virtual Films & Conversations is an online panel series with WFF filmmakers, producers, and show-runners, held over Zoom and Facebook live and moderated by film festival executive director Meira Blaustein. Virtual audience members can participate by asking questions live, or watch previous panel discussion recordings from the archive. The Alternative Projections series lets viewers stream shorts and feature-length films from WFF alum for free online. Support the Woodstock Film Festival with a donation.
Based on the James Baldwin novel by the same title, If Beale Street Could Talk delivers an unwavering love story despite all odds in a way that is as delicate as it is anguished. Director Barry Jenkins’s empathy and understanding of his characters comes shining through as he unveils the innocence and commitment in which the young lovers, Alonzo and Tish, offer to each other. Shaped by the racial climate prevalent in New York City in the early 1970s, the couple’s tender bond is brutally tested by the wrongful accusation and incarceration of young Alonzo. Winner of both an Academy and a Golden Globe award, this film will capture your heart and hold it tight until the very last frame. On Hulu with subscription. Available for rent on Amazon Prime and YouTube from $3.99.