RIP Cinema: Welcome to the World of Virtual Film Festivals

You can go ahead and stick a fork in film – it’s done. That’s right; cinema is dead.

by Michael Bergeron

There will be movies in theaters once again and some of them might even be great but they will be zombie movies of movies that were alive and then died and are now crawling off the screen.

The concept of streaming films in one’s living room will and has forever eroded the financial model of movie theaters.

But what about film festivals, which for the most part exist in a world of mass gathering and celebrating the artistic rather than the economic side of celluloid.

The recent edition of Austin’s Fantastic Fest, in its 16th year, went virtual. Other than two films (opening and closing night) screened at a theater enforcing social distancing the entire festival unwound on computer screens around the world.

World premieres and cult classic restorations abounded.

  • “Teddy” – A French werewolf movie that delivers in story what it lacks in effects. Effective use of tweezers and an eyeball.
  • “Girl” – Nicely paced Southern Gothic thriller with Bella Thorne totally owning the movie. Mickey Rourke co-stars as what else – the nefarious sheriff of a small town.
  • “The Stylist” – Serial killers aren’t often attractive as they strut around in their thigh-highs. A hairdresser scalps her victims and wears their hair. Great ending.
  • “Action U.S.A.” – A rediscovery of a Texas made 1979 actioner directed by veteran stunt man John Stewart. The femme lead Barri Murphy should’ve had a bigger career. Tremendous stunts include barrel rolls, jumping from a helicopter, explosions and car chases.
  • “The Boy Behind the Door” – puts two young boys in peril. When one escapes the kidnappers, rather than go for help, he returns to the hostage house and attempt to rescue his friend. Meanwhile everyone in the audience is yelling at their computers: RUN!
  • “Daughters of Darkness” – This 1971 gem is the cream of the crop of Eurohorror vampire films, recently restored from its original negative. You can’t take your eyes off Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet or Andrea Rau.
  • “Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island” – A found footage composed film that combines three network television movie in the early 1990s about Amy Fisher. Incredibly engaging.
  • “How to Deter A Robber” – Not funny when it’s trying to be funny and not tense when trying to ratchet up the tension.
  • “Queen of Black Magic” – An Indonesian horror odyssey (actually a remake of another 1980s Indonesian horror odyssey) that cooks with marabak and features death by centipede and caterpillar. That’s only the beginning because in this remote countryside orphanage the real terror has just begun.
  • “Possessor” – The sophomore film from Brandon Cronenberg, set for theaters this weekend and VOD in November, was the festival’s opening night film. With actress Andrea Riseborough in the lead the younger Cronenberg has an actress that can pass through the eye of the needle. Corporate assassins transfer to other people’s bodies to achieve their targets. Cronenberg, as he proved with “Antiviral,” is a chip off his old man’s block. He seems to know just how many frames to show a knife entering flesh and well as how much weirdness the audience will tolerate.

The upcoming Austin Film Festival launching October 22, and the Houston Cinema Arts Festival scheduled for mid-November, will also use the virtual model to display various world premieres along with seminars. It’s a successful prototype that will be seen more and more, especially as once lively brick and mortar theaters go silent.

The camaraderie that was so common at the various incarnations of Fantastic Fest cannot be replicated by online screenings. Nor can its easy access to free parking, plenty of nearby restaurants and the constant companionship of like-minded cinephiles. Until events get back to normal the virtual prototype will be the best way to experience film events.

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