As a semi-employed film critic, it’s often my duty, like so many other critics, to come up with a 10-best list at the end of every year. However, when you live in a state like North Carolina, many films that receive acclaim don’t immediately appear around these parts.
Oh sure, the Triangle still has art-house theaters, playing the cream of the cinematic crop. But we’re still a lower-tier market, which means we usually get these movies after they play larger cities. And there are often indie films, whether they’re low-budget releases or foreign films or documentaries, that don’t get a proper theatrical release in most states. (It’s a good thing I do know critics in other places; many of them send me screener links to those hard-to-find movies so I can view them for top-10 consideration.)
For Jim Carl, senior director of the Carolina Theatre in Durham, it’s all about logistics. Like many art-house theaters, he has only a small number of screens. “If we were a multiplex with seven to eight screens, this would not be an issue,” Carl says. “But with just two screens, it becomes impossible to book all the films we’d like or which our audiences request.”
This is especially true during Oscar season, when film after film gets released during October and January, each of them demanding at least a 2-to-3-week engagement. Over the Christmas weekend, Carl says the theater was offered “Fences,” “La La Land” and “Jackie,” all highly-touted films (and possible Oscar contenders). Unfortunately, with the theater still in the middle of a four-week commitment to “Manchester by the Sea,” he ended up only selecting “Fences,” bouncing the successful “Moonlight” out of the other theater. This time of year, films that aren’t being lobbied hard for awards consideration rarely get the attention they deserve. “I would have loved to screen ‘The Eagle Huntress’ when it opened in this market, but simply had no room on the schedule without dumping a potential Oscar contender,” Carl says.
“Huntress” did briefly play at Carmike 15 when it came out last month, another prime example of a movie getting screen time wherever it can around here. You have to keep tabs on all the theaters on a regular basis to see if one of them is bold enough to play a small film you’re dying to see. Recently, I went Googling to see if the movie “Aquarius,” a Brazilian film starring veteran Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, would be playing here soon. To my surprise, it was playing for one last day at Chapel Hill’s Silverspot Cinema. As much as I wanted to see that film, I didn’t have the time to drive all the way there.
On Friday, “Aquarius” will be available to stream on Netflix, one of the many, usual on-demand spots to catch movies you didn’t know existed. Whether they’re subscription video-on-demand like Netflix or Amazon Prime or transactional video-on-demand like iTunes or Google Play, these places end up becoming homes for the underrated, overlooked and practically forgotten. However, while some indie films have been released in theaters and VOD simultaneously, there still are films that have yet to stream anywhere. 2016 was a great year for documentaries and we are lucky enough to have the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, whose offerings this year included “Cameraperson,” Kirsten Johnson’s visual memoir of clips and moments she has captured on film. If you weren’t able to get to the Durham festival last year, the Criterion Collection will release “Cameraperson” on DVD, Blu-Ray and, yes, iTunes next month.
However, two other documentaries getting critical attention, “Tower,” a live-action/animated hybrid detailing the 1966 mass shooting that took place on the University of Texas campus, and “Kate Plays Christine,” where an actress gets inside the mind of a newscaster who committed suicide on-air, have so far been impossible to find online. Hopefully, they will follow the same path as “Cameraperson.”
It’s funny how, even in these times when it seems mostly everything can be easily accessed, people who enjoy small, interesting, different films still gotta wait for them to show up.
Craig Lindsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org