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SXSW, Roxie Theatre, and More Offering Amazing Streaming Movies

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The Green Fog

Unless your brain’s been melted by the lies of the Orange Skull and/or his enablers, you’re not going to begrudge the need for California’s shelter in place order. However, if you love supporting art film, you might wonder what you can do when the Bay Area’s art house theatres have been closed and big film festivals like the San Francisco International Film Festival have been cancelled. Fortunately, streaming options exist that allow you to show your love for art film to the institutions that make these films accessible or even the artists who make such films.  

Take the City’s funky cinematic jewel, the Roxie Theatre. Thanks to the new Roxie Virtual Cinema program, buying a virtual ticket lets you access the stream of a new or insanely popular film while ensuring that half the price of each ticket helps keep the Roxie going. These virtual tickets, though, are a use it or lose it deal. Once you purchase a ticket, you have five days from the date of purchase to access the stream you temporarily bought.  

This particular weekend sees the Virtual Cinema offering three fantastic films. In Diao Yinan’s follow-up to “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” The Wild Goose Lake, a gangster on the run tries to turn his personal misfortune into a benefit for the wife and child he abandoned. Small-time gangster Zhou Zenong has a dead-or-alive bounty put on his head after he accidentally kills a cop. He wants the wife and child he abandoned long ago to receive the reward money.  To make this goal happen, he must rely on “bathing beauty” (local slang for a sex worker) Liu Alai, whose loyalty and motivations are a huge question mark.  

Another Roxie Virtual Cinema option is Louis Schwartzberg’s popular documentary Fantastic Fungi, which takes viewers on a startling visual journey through the fungi kingdom. Could mushrooms and their amazing underground networks offer solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues? Streaming Schwartzberg’s film at home would allow those of a recreational pharmaceutical bent (e.g. magic mushrooms) to be really amazed by the film’s incredible footage without annoying other viewers.  

Bacurau

But Must-See honors of these Virtual Cinema openings belong to Bacurau. The title of directors Kleber Mendonca Filho (“Aquarius”) and Juliano Dornelles’ film refers to a small Brazilian village located in the country’s sertão (arid region of scrub).  When the village suddenly disappears from all maps, a series of consequences follow including a literal matter of life and death. Sonja Braga and Udo Kier lead this ensemble cast of this Cannes-winning exercise in genre-fuck.

For those hungry for more recent and acclaimed examples of Latin American cinema, such interested folks should check out the five films forming the inaugural worldwide digital release of the Cinema Tropical Collection. Between March 29 and April 12, this streaming series premieres five highly acclaimed films including “Everything Else” and “Kekszakallu”. Broke-Ass art film lovers need to pay particular attention to the Collection’s March 29 debut at 4 PM PT. The award-winning documentary “Away From Meaning” will be available for free streaming for 24 hours from the collection’s launch. Olivia Luengas’ heartfelt personal film follows her sister Liliana, who lives with borderline personality disorder after contracting viral encephalitis. Continual relapses resulting in suicide attempts have caused Liliana to be repeatedly hospitalized over the years. Now, with the spectre of Liliana facing yet another relapse and hospital treatment no longer available, it’s time to take a chance on a new treatment.

LIGO

Another bit of free streaming with a time limit comes from the D.C. Environmental Film FestivalUntil March 31, Broke-Ass viewers can stream for free some of what would have been the festival’s 2020 selections. Admittedly, some of the available streams require you to already be a subscriber to Hulu or Amazon Prime. But there are still some interesting films to be found among the offerings not available through those fee-based streaming services. 

L’Eau Est La Vie: From Standing Rock To The Swamp follows a group of Louisiana Indigenous women fighting to protect Mother Earth from greedhead fossil fuel companies. LIGO presents the inside story of the 50-year $1 billion search that led to the game-changing discovery of gravitational waves from deep space. Spawning Hope looks at an experiment in using cryptopreserved coral sperm, a project whose success might ultimately help save endangered coral species. Venture Out is a portrait of Perry Cohen’s The Venture Out Project, which takes LGBTQ+ folks out on wilderness trips and helps them build community. Restoring Indonesia’s Peatlands–One Pasta At A Time shows how a water-loving crop used to make pasta can be key to restoring Indonesian peatlands destroyed by one-size-fits-all agriculture.

No time limit has been mentioned in connection with accessing some of the SXSW 2020 Shorts online. Thanks to the auspices of Oscilloscope Laboratories and Mailchimp, over 70 of the 119 short films selected for screening at what would have been this year’s South By Southwest film festival are now available online for free viewing.  The offerings include “Chicken Of The Dead” (a company which produces half-biological, half-antibiotics chickens encounters big trouble with its new chicken launch), “No Crying At The Dinner Table” (award-winning personal documentary looks at the intergenerational trauma haunting the filmmaker’s family), “Reminiscences Of The Green Revolution” (a Philippine ghost story involving love and violent monkey-wrenching), “Coup d’Etat Math” (this Special Jury Prize winner shows how fights from being born to just maintaining are all part of the same struggle), and “Mizuko” (this intimate portrait of a half-Japanese American woman forced to reconsider her personal boundaries regarding abortion after she gets pregnant earned its makers a Special Jury Recognition).

Bring Me The Head Of Tim Horton

Even a few independent filmmakers are temporarily getting into the free streaming act. If you’ve missed some of their earlier films, now’s the time to catch up. From Penny Lane, the filmmaker behind the amazing Satanic Temple portrait “Hail Satan?”, comes  “The Pain Of Others” (a portrait of sufferers of Morgellons disease) and “Nuts!” (animated biography of a real-life doctor who supposedly cured male impotence via surgically implanting goat testicles). Cinematic mind-scrambler Guy Maddin makes available his S.F. International Film Festival Closing Night Film The Green Fog (a remake of “Vertigo” using footage from other films shot in San Francisco) and Bring Me The Head Of Tim Horton (Maddin plays cinematic mindfuck games with both “Making Of” featurettes and big-budget war movies). Meanwhile, each week of the COVID-19 crisis sees documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit streaming for free one of his documentary films. Running until March 31 is “Objectified,” a look at what the objects we surround ourselves with say about who we are and who we aspire to be.

This list admittedly consists of the more high-profile low cost or free streaming art film options out there.  This article doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive accounting of what individual filmmakers and even festivals have made available online in the wake of COVID-19. But if you can’t buy a virtual ticket to support the stream’s existence, donate to the artists who made their earlier films available. Every filmmaker wants people to see their work, but not every filmmaker can afford to pay for the costs of streaming their films digitally. Don’t be a freeloading viewer.

(For a really exhaustive list of more experimental films available for free streaming, go here.) 

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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