Austin Cinemas Go Virtual

New initiative changes the game for VOD to benefit indie theatres and distributors

Cold War family thriller Balloon, one of the titles available in Austin's new virtual cinema initiative

When cinemas closed as part of the coronavirus lockdown, it looked like an apocalypse for movies. The big studios responded by changing release dates for upcoming titles and moving those that had already been released, like The Hunt and Bloodshot, faster to VOD rental. But that wasn't an option for the smaller indie distributors who depend on small arthouse theatres to give their films a little more exposure. With the indie cinemas closed, new strategies were required, and that's where the new wave of virtual cinemas came in. It's an experiment to keep regional cinema alive, and it looks like it's working.

It's a simple model that looks on its surface like VOD, but with one significant change. In traditional VOD, distributors split the rental fee with the VOD platform. In virtual cinemas, the distributor creates an online box office for individual theatres; the theatres can then promote the film to their loyal local audience like they would any film if it were showing on their screens. The viewer rents the title, then the distributor splits the ticket sales with the theatre. AFS Cinema Lead Programmer Lars Nilsen called initial sales "surprisingly" good. He explained, "People who like what AFS does and want to be sure we can maintain relative solvency during this crisis are buying these VODs as a way to support AFS, so that's nice."

Kino Lorber was first, offering bizarre Brazilian satire Bacurau through its new Kino Marquee service to cinemas that had it originally booked for a regular run. Nationally, over 60 theaters signed up quickly, including Austin's AFS Cinema. Yet in under a week, the model had expanded from one film at AFS to a whole slate at three of the most recognizable names in arthouse and exploitation movies: AFS, Alamo Drafthouse, and Violet Crown. So far, some of the biggest names in indie distribution – Magnolia, Oscilloscope, and Vimeo – as well as newcomers like Distrib Films US and Film Movement have started offering these virtual cinemas, with a dozen indie movies on offer. Meanwhile, the Drafthouse is using the same systems to keep its signature Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday programming going.

Remember, if you buy tickets for these movies from any cinema's own website, those rentals help make sure those theaters open again when this is all over. Nilsen said, "Once we get the cinema open again, we are going to rage."

Virtual Screenings in Austin Cinemas This Week

And Then We Danced: AFS Cinema

Bacurau: AFS Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse

Balloon: Alamo Drafthouse

Corpus Christi: Alamo Drafthouse, Violet Crown

Fantastic Fungi: AFS Cinema

The Infiltrators: AFS Cinema

L'Innocente: Violet Crown

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band: Alamo Drafthouse, Violet Crown

The Perfect Nanny: Alamo Drafthouse

Sorry We Missed You: Violet Crown

The Whistlers: Alamo Drafthouse, Violet Crown

The Wild Goose Lake: AFS Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse, Violet Crown

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Coronavirus, Virtual Cinema, VOD, AFS Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse, Violet Crown Cinema, Distrib Films US, Magnolia Pictures, Kino Lorber, Film Movement, Vimeo, Kino Marquee, Lars Nilsen, Bacurau, Balloon, Once Were Brothers, The Wild Goose Lake, Corpus Christi, The Perect Nanny

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