As non-essential businesses remain closed and with no federal funding guaranteed to help them in the meantime, it’s becoming fair to ask: Will they be there when cities and states do lift their respective orders? Places like restaurants and retail stores are surviving on take-out and online orders, but what about places like movie theaters? That’s the question distribution company Kino Lorber asked itself in mid-March, and the possible answers could be dire, especially for small indie locations.
“We’re very much a company self committed to playing movies in theaters,” says Chris Wells, director of theatrical sales. “By the end of Covid, if those theaters aren’t in business, we’ll have nowhere to play our movies so there must be a way to help them and also get our movies seen. How can we help these cinemas stay afloat? ”
Enter Kino Marquee, a virtual streaming service which enlists the marketing arms of closed theaters to help steer viewers toward their films and virtual screening rooms. The distribution company and the theaters split the revenue 50/50. Currently Kino Now has hosted screenings with local theaters such as AFI Silver Spring in Maryland, Suns Cinema in Northwest D.C. and Cinema Arts Theaters in Fairfax, Virginia. We caught up with Wells to learn more about the initiative and the movie industry as a whole.
District Fray: How has this initiative changed things for Kino Lorber?
Chris Wells: So many new relationships have been created through this. We’re a boutique distributor, so we’re lucky if we can play hundreds of screens around the country. We’re working with one-off theaters and mom and pop shops. What we do is foreign language films and documentaries, but not movies that will be seen by tens of millions of people around the country. It’s a very competitive space. It’s hard to get screen time, especially when there are so many films that are bigger than us. This leveled the playing field. You can open as many digital movies as you want in a given week, without the limitations of the space.
What have the theaters’ responses been like?
A lot of theaters have found this freeing, because maybe they can take chances. We’ve worked with a ton of collaborators. This is why we like playing with them in physical brick and mortar real world. That success can translate over to the virtual realm as well. We’re on more than 300 screens across the country, that’s a lot for a very depressing Russian drama or Bacurau, which is genre bending. These are movies that are provocative, and oddly enough, now they’re getting larger audiences than they may otherwise have received.
Why do you think there’s such an interest for content like this right now?
We’ve had a lot of people reach out that normally haven’t. It tends to be in bigger cities, because that’s where the audiences for these films tend to be. People are coming to us asking to join the program. Those are movies that people might not take a chance on otherwise and that goes for audiences too. When you’re able to help these artistic pillars of community, you’re more likely to give money to those institutions rather than faceless corporations.
How are you guys picking what streams with what theater?
It’s all about what the theaters are interested in presenting. You don’t want there to be whiplash from the movies they’d see under the banner otherwise. Our movies are a little challenging, but a good challenging. They tend to be critically acclaimed and are opening new horizons. We are often doing movies that are too challenging, but for us that’s exciting and we stand behind the visions of those movies.
How many do you have in the queue?
We had a number of films that were supposed to open in brick and mortar theaters, but we’ve transitioned them to virtual. We have a number of movies we were set to release physically, but now we’re having discussions. You don’t want them to sit around for too long, and you want to continue to build on any buzz it might have. We have a number of things in the pipeline.
How important is it for people to realize this is an option to help their favorite theater?
It was always the most important thing from the get go. It’s been incredibly successful for us and the theaters. It has to be theater forward. Suns [Cinema] has been an amazing success story, they usually air things that have already come out. That’s a theater thats really good at marketing to an audience and getting people to support them and that’s really inspiring. It’s a lot of groundwork that’s been laid by these theaters and there’s a real since of loyalty from these patrons.
How much do you think the film industry will change based on this?
Immeasurably, I don’t know if it will ever be quite the same. I’m also on the pessimistic side. Just living in New York and seeing how difficult things are and how devastating it’s been across the board. I also think other countries are being a little more cavalier about this, I expect false starts and that’s why we want Kino Marquee to be available as they need. If a theater is open at half occupancy, we want them to still have this option. I’ve worked in theaters throughout my career, and I’ve never seen at home streaming as a threat. The more people watch, the more interested they enjoy.
For more information and a complete list of available titles streaming through Kino Marquee, visit here.
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