The cinema landscape, like all others, shifted seemingly overnight

If these were normal times, I would have had two press screenings this week: A24’s “First Cow” and “Saint Maud.”

These are not normal times. 

Both screenings were canceled. I’m sure part of this was from the immediate, absolute urgency of social distancing (which I suggest we recast as “physical distancing” for the sake of our mental health). But press-only screenings aren’t packed houses, generally featuring a dozen-plus critics spread out over a theater. We already practiced social distancing before it was a mandate. 

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The underlying question was who would have been able to watch these movies we would have been reviewing. 

With lives truly at stake, many independent theaters and some chains did the right thing and closed voluntarily, even before state and local governments made it a mandate. 

It’s easy to reserve sympathy for the massive Hollywood movie machine, or to grumble about the price of popcorn at the theater, but it’s also a time to have empathy for those whose businesses and individual paychecks are suddenly a question mark. 

I have been trying to get people to go movie theaters for my entire 20 years as a critic, but this week I gave some recommendations for movies to stream at home. 

And I held a bunch back for future installments, because, folks, this is going be the reality for the foreseeable future. 

Some of the biggest theatrical releases of 2020 have already been postponed, some for only a few months, which seems optimistic. 

The new James Bond flick, “No Time To Die,” moved its release date from April 10 to November 25. “Fast & Furious 9” pushed back an entire year. 

Meanwhile, Universal Pictures is doing something unprecedented: releasing its current theatrical offerings to VOD (video on demand) services, including “The Invisible Man,” “Emma,” “The Hunt” and what would have been one of this weekend’s big releases, “Trolls World Tour.” 

Some indie studios are doing them one better. The Gateway Film Center announced a partnership with Oscilloscope to do virtual screenings of “Saint Frances,” which was slated to open at the Film Center today. 

Why is that better than a VOD rental or just watching something you haven’t seen on Netflix? Because the studio is actually sharing revenue with the theater to help them in a time of mutual need. 

Another indie, Kino Lorber has announced a similar virtual theater experience called Kino Marquee, which the Wexner Center recently joined, and I’d expect more indie studios to follow. 

While these steps are great, I’d also suggest maybe buying some gift cards from our local independent theaters for future use. 

I know a lot of people have been clamoring for at-home options on the same day as theatrical releases, but keep in mind that would completely alter the theater system as we know it. 

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been in a movie theater, and I imagine it will be much longer until I can return. That communal experience of sitting with a group of strangers, sharing laughs, gasps and, yes, yelling at people to get off their damn phones… that can’t be replicated at home. 

And someday, when it absolutely safe for us to do so again, I want you to remember this and support our local movie theaters. 

But for now, I want you to stay the hell home. I’ll have more streaming recommendations and reviews coming for you.