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How Do You Want to Watch Movies in 2021?

Jan. 1, 2021 -- We will remember 2020 as a year of scars. Movies helped us get through it.

2020 was a tumultuous year for cinema, with Covid-induced lockdowns forcing us away from the big screen in the direction of streaming services to get our film fixes. Even as vaccines become available, about 60 percent of American theaters remain closed because of Covid-19 concerns.

Showing movies on big screens, which dates to the 1890s, may have vast challenges after the pandemic – not the least of which is a 78-percent plunge in domestic ticket sales in 2020. But a business of this scale will not vanish forever in the span of a few self-quarantining months. We are social creatures by nature, we watch stories together.

Art house cinemas and film societies like ours have been able to create vibrant virtual platforms that have kept audiences engaged and challenged. Arthouses have always ‘lived’, we are fighters and survivors, community spaces in the truest sense: placing our bets on stories that celebrate our humanity and collective existence.

The virtual cinema model which the Film Society of Summit adopted has been an excellent substitute for watching new and repertory films during the pandemic, but the technology isn’t perfect. The dramas and documentaries offered are the hidden gems that you'd normally see at the Film Society of Summit — the films that take risks, explore vital topics, or just flat-out blow us away.

Thank you for joining us for our live virtual conversations, starting with What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael in April. We were socially distanced but connected. More of these to come in 2021, including a panel discussion of the documentary Oliver Sacks: On My Own to lead things off on January 7th 7 pm.

I believe there’s a pent-up demand to see movies in a theater. But post-Covid, how much will straight-to-streaming features replace the excitement of watching newly released movies in theaters full of movie fans? Because of the pandemic, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided for the first time to allow streaming films to skip a theatrical release and still remain eligible for the Academy Awards.

When the pandemic is controlled and we can congregate again, the desire to gather may be stronger than ever. The innovation spearheaded by independent film distributors and arthouse cinemas during Covid-19 suggests a future where all movies, even indie films without distributors, can be seen by audiences across the U.S., not buried on a streaming platform; where they can be championed; and where they can be discussed with an enthusiastic audience joining from almost anywhere.

Outdoor screenings offer another option for watching movies safely on the big screen. When the Film Society of Summit partnered with Summit Area Indivisible to offer an open-air screening of the gripping documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, the audience appreciated the opportunity to watch and discuss this film. More screenings will be held outdoors in and around Summit when the weather gets warm.

We can expect excellent films to be released at the beginning of the year, which begs the question, how would you like to watch films in 2021? Please let us know.

See you at the movies! As 2021 begins, i'm dreaming of a Covid-free world where movies reign supreme, as they once did and will again. -- Lisa Reznik, program director


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