Filmgoing in New Orleans, spring 2020

By Shotgun CinemaPublished on 05/14/2020

[This post will be updated, so check back as needed. Current as of 5/20/2020.]

Shotgun Cinema has been quiet for the last couple months as we’ve seen the pandemic unfold. From the outset, this has been a deeply personal undertaking for our two co-founders, which has kept us small. But in a way, we’re fortunate to have the flexibility to be patient for the moment.

Brick-and-mortar theaters around the country are less flexible. They need to continue programming because that’s how they keep their often historic buildings open and maintained, how they keep their staffs paid, and how they engage with their communities that give nonprofits their mandate. Many have turned to virtual cinema, offering titles online that can be rented on a temporary basis. (Shotgun Cinema partnered this month with the Pontchartrain Film Festival for a virtual offering of Spaceship Earth.) Some have turned to a drive-in model, which has been widely discussed during the beautiful New Orleans springtime. For now, this GoFundMe campaign has some good info about the current challenges for independent and art house cinemas. The last day to donate was May 14.

One thing we’ve lamented in the past is the unstable and (to many) surprisingly small number of movie screens in New Orleans. After losing the nine screens at The Theatres At Canal Place recently and Zeitgeist moving to Arabi, New Orleans has been left with only five movie screens in two locations throughout the entire city. Zeitgeist – actually only a couple blocks outside of “New Orleans proper” – is one of several exhibitors in the greater metro area, along with Chalmette Movies and multiplexes in Metairie, Harahan, and Harvey.

Cinemas are included in the city’s Phase One reopening plan that goes into effect May 16. Shotgun Cinema advocates for the safety of all individuals, especially workers, during reopening. We urge everyone to prioritize local businesses and consider where their goods and services are coming from. But, we acknowledge that every person will make their own decisions about how to resume public life.

Since we know going to the movies will continue to be important for many people, here’s the current status of local exhibitors as of 5/20:

The Broad Theater – seven virtual titles available. Plans to reopen during Phase One “in the coming weeks.” Gift cards available.

Chalmette Movies – reopening June 12.

New Orleans Film Society – several dozen virtual titles available. NOFS, which in addition to producing events like the New Orleans Film Festival, is heavily involved with local and regional production and filmmaker support, has launched two programs: one is From NOLA With Love, a virtual screening series offering “40 films from New Orleans filmmakers.” All proceeds go to filmmakers, passes are available, and we’re still in the window of free viewing for NOFS members. There’s also NOFS Home Theater, with new titles offered each week for rent. NOFS memberships available.

Pontchartrain Film Festival – virtually co-presenting Spaceship Earth with Shotgun Cinema. Runs through May 22.

Prytania Theatre – currently open with two daily screenings of rep titles. detailed information on their website about sanitary procedures once they reopen. T-shirt and tote available through Dirty Coast’s Screens For Good initiative.

Zeitgeist – reopening May 22. Currently at least seven virtual titles, and two New York Film Festival children’s programs. More virtual titles to come. Gift cards and nonprofit memberships are available.

Jazz & Heritage FoundationJ&H facilitated screenings during the weekend of May 15-16 of the New Orleans music documentary Up From The Streets. A portion of ticket sales benefit their Music Relief Fund. Both Zeitgeist and the Broad are participating.

AMC (Elmwood, Clearview, Harvey) – all temporarily closed “in accordance with local guidelines.” Check back if you must.

Crescent City Film Festival – student-run festival through Loyola University is hosting online events May 22-24.

For now, it’s interesting to note that, among the exhibitors participating in it, virtual cinema seems to offer “more” to viewers. There’s a pretty substantial increase in the number of titles being offered. Seven films a week are far more than the Broad and Zeitgeist would normally be able to show in person. The flexibility of a multi-day rental bypasses the possibility of venues selling out at one’s desired screening time. Virtual cinema also allows a person to rent a title from any theater in the country, further increasing the amount on offer.

Exhibitors can also theoretically reach a much larger audience than they can physically, because Internet viewership has no limit as a physical auditorium does. So, exhibitors that are able to mobilize their audience have the chance of being fairly profitable. Those who cannot still face significant costs because the balance of power remains the same – rights-holders set the price for access to a film. In Shotgun Cinema’s experience, the cost to an exhibitor to license a virtual title might be the same or higher, owing in part to the larger “possible” audience and, possibly, technical investments made by distributors who have set up rental platforms. So the much-appreciated gesture of support by many distributors still carries plenty of risk for most exhibitors with thin margins. Which is why they’re working hard on many solutions to stay afloat at the moment. Distributors, filmmakers, and talent have been extremely helpful and generous during this time, but for exhibitors, it’s still a hard row to hoe.

We know that film exhibition will continue to change. As with most things, the benefits of the new ways are obvious and measurable, and the losses hidden in the old ways are less quantifiable.

This post will continue to be update for the foreseeable future. Information, corrections, or other comments? Email us at [email protected]. (TB)

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