On January 2, I drew up a list of dozens and dozens of films many of us were looking forward to seeing this year. Now the fate of nearly all of them is up in the air. This year’s Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin film festivals came off without a hitch, but the titles they’ve launched have been jettisoned into limbo. For many, it was the cancellation of SXSW that drove home just how severe the impact this crisis would be on cinema. Thirty-nine of the films selected for the edition that never was will be presented by Amazon’s Prime Video from April 27 to May 6. This is great news for these filmmakers, but it’s understandably taken well over a month to sort out a virtual launch for a fraction of the original lineup.
Cannes would have hosted the next major round of premieres, traditionally the one with the greatest impact on the shape of any given year in cinema, but no one, including artistic director Thierry Frémaux, knows when—or perhaps most pertinently, if—that will happen in 2020. Last Thursday, the day that Frémaux would have announced the official selection, the staff at Screen, drawing on production schedules and industry gossip, put together a list of serious contenders. They began with Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, featuring a typically crowded cast of starry regulars and promising newcomers, because it’s been an “open secret” that the film would premiere in Cannes. Other likely selections include new films by Ana Lily Amirpour, Andrea Arnold, Clio Barnard, Bruno Dumont, Ildikó Enyedi, Mia Hansen-Løve, Joanna Hogg, Ann Hui, Im Sang-soo, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Nadav Lapid, Francis Lee, Nanni Moretti, Kirill Serebrennikov, Paul Verhoeven, Eskil Vogt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Edgar Wright, and Chloé Zhao.
If Cannes 2020 is called off, could some of these productions look ahead to the summer and fall festivals for their delayed premieres? Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman has been talking to the organizers of these events, and the bottom line is that, at this point, prospects are still very iffy. Karlovy Vary, still scheduled to run from July 3 through 11, will make an announcement next Tuesday. Locarno (August 5 through 15) is in a holding pattern until organizers hear from local authorities.
As for the big three fall festivals, all slated to open in early September, question marks swarm them like gnats. Variety’s Nick Vivarelli reports that Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera has said that this year’s edition will “necessarily be ‘experimental,’ with far fewer U.S. talent on the red carpet and a greater European presence . . . Barbera also did not rule out the possibility of ‘a real collaboration with the Cannes Film Festival.’” Telluride, in the meantime, has been granted an extra day by Colorado town’s council, but that doesn’t yet mean that the festival will actually be taking place. And Toronto is probably taking the most realistic approach, namely, flexibility. The dates may or may not change, and there may or may not be a digital component to this year’s event.
Screen’s list may be impressive for the sheer number of titles wrapped and ready to roll, but what about the films of 2021 and 2022? As part of Deadline’s Reopening Hollywood series, Nellie Andreeva and Mike Fleming have been talking to the studios about how productions may be firing up again after lockdown measures are loosened. One of their top concerns is that “insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.” Even after California’s quarantine is lifted, studios may wait for two months before allowing anyone on any set.
Once they do green-light a production, all members of the cast and crew will have to be tested, which could “add up to an hour and a half to each person’s arrival time.” Crews won’t be able to share tools. “You’ll need your own.” Stars will likely stick to their own teams for makeup and hair. At the earlier stages of production, screenwriters may already be writing out crowd scenes or distant locations—and perhaps rethinking their stories from the bottom up. Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay, who has been talking with independent producers, wonders “if mask-wearing and social distancing become some part of our daily lives for the next two years, will we be making automatically period films if we exclude them? Or films set in the future?”
Movie theaters have closed pretty much around the world, and in Japan, while the major chains are holding steady, smaller, independent cinemas are in trouble. Patrick Brzeski reports in Variety on two initiatives aiming to rescue them, a petition to lobby the government to offer emergency support signed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Shinya Tsukamoto, and a crowdfunding effort launched by Koji Fukada and Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
In a series it’s calling Dream Palaces, Sight & Sound has been talking with filmmakers about the theaters vital to their cinephilia. Today, Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, In Fabric) salutes Husets Biograf, “a lifeline for all manner of cinemagoers” in Copenhagen. “In a time when anyone (including myself) gets called a ‘curator’ for picking ten films from an online spreadsheet while on a sandwich break, the heroic efforts of the likes of [programmer] Jack Stevenson put the rest of us to shame,” writes Strickland. “Even rummaging through a skip for discarded films is nothing out of the ordinary for him.”
In a similar vein, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody is finding that what he misses most about going to the movies “isn’t the physical experience of the big screen and the dark room and the carved-out, shared block of time; it’s the programming of the city’s great movie houses.” Without the guidance of professional curators, we turn to each other. “List-making represents and reflects what comes to the fore—and shares it with others,” writes Brody. “With collective spaces closed for now, and no coffee shop or water cooler or movie-theater lobby in which to chat about movies, that sharing is more important than ever.”
Guillermo del Toro gets that, and yesterday, he launched a thread on Twitter and invited a few fellow filmmakers to join him and discuss what they’ve been reading, watching, and listening to. Del Toro himself has been rewatching the work of Hollywood director Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living, Death Takes a Holiday). Sarah Polley has shown Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to her kids and then rewatched The Thin Red Line after they went to bed. “I’ve also discovered this month that Sidney Lumet made perfect films,” she tweets. Ari Aster has been hunkering down with The Sopranos and the television version of Scenes from a Marriage.
Edgar Wright has been watching two or three films a day and catching up with Rossellini, Ozu, Melville, and Bergman. “What would seem like too heavy a subject has actually been one of solace and hope,” he’s found. James Gunn is following Steven Conrad’s “absolutely wonderful” show, Patriot, while Alice Low has been “seeking refuge in YA and children’s fiction.” Darren Aronofsky has got del Toro and Rian Johnson talking about the Coen brothers and Robert Altman. And James Mangold? “I’ve been on Criterion almost exclusively. Just watched Red Desert again. As always, I’m struck by the devastatingly beautiful palette . . . There's a whole plague aspect to the narrative. Both literal and figurative.”
I’m not going to wrap this section without mentioning K. Austin Collin’s excellent guide in Vanity Fair to the Columbia Noir program on the Channel. “Taken together,” he writes, “Columbia’s noirs not only traverse but in many ways broaden a good many of the genre’s defining complications and contradictions: grit, surrealism; love, lust; death . . . death.”
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