With theaters still a no-go for the foreseeable future, independent distributors and theaters are trying a wide range of solutions to stay afloat and emulate the theatrical experience. You’ll start to find virtual theater options and live, virtual Q&A dates with directors in addition to the more expected digital rentals and streaming services.
Of course, this starts to make for a much more confusing landscape. There are more registrations and different businesses you’re giving your credit card info to. Sometimes, there are distributors who tell all about how great their new film is, but make it nearly impossible to find out how to actually watch it. <deep breath> I’ll do my best to link you to the most direct viewing options when finding them becomes befuddling.
So you understand why virtual theater is a thing, many distributors and theaters already have deals in place that can’t go through because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They can’t just switch those over to a streaming or rental option because the theater would get left out in the cold on its deal, being replaced by the streaming service or rental platform. Instead, virtual theater allows the regular portion of a ticket sale to go to the theater itself, just as if you’d walked into the theater and bought a ticket.
It’s an interesting idea for keeping local, independent theaters afloat. Because you get to choose the participating theater it goes through, you can support your local theater while seeing a film during its theatrical run, without having to wait months until it’s accessible in other ways.
That’s enough of that. Let’s get into it:
Lucky Grandma (digital rental)
directed by Sasie Sealy
A chain-smoking, gambling grandma ends up owing money to a casino and the gang behind it. What’s she to do but enter into the gang war herself and plan a heist? I generally hate review aggregators, but they can sometimes be useful for getting a read on smaller films and its 96% on Rotten Tomatoes is the kind of strength that indicates a hidden gem.
This is director Sasie Sealy’s feature debut. It’s told through a mix of languages, an approach I’m glad is taking better hold – here they’re English, Mandarin, and Cantonese with English subtitles.
“Lucky Grandma” is one of the films that’s trying a virtual theater run. It can be watched on Kino Marquee via joining a local theater’s screening rooms. You can find the list right here. It’s pricier than VOD rentals at $12, but less expensive than major releases currently-in-theater rentals (which usually run $20). Remember that the theater you watch it through is the one that’s being financially supported, so which one you click does matter. You have the film to stream as many times as you like on your devices for five days.
You can also watch via Alamo Drafthouse’s On Demand service for the same $12 price right here. Be aware this option gives you a shorter, 48-hour window to watch, though you can still view it as many times as you like within that frame.
Ovid and the Art of Love (digital rental)
directed by Esme von Hoffman
I love this kind of film, one that re-purposes the world around us into an entire stage to tell stories out of history or re-enact plays and myths. Ovid is actual history, though, a major Roman poet best known for the “Metamorphoses”, a 15-book epic narrative. He had a bit of a frustrating life and clashed with a Roman emperor, though to say more would probably amount to spoilers.
Filmed in Detroit by director Esme von Hoffman, there’s not a lot of information to dig up on this one. There’s an Instagram post of von Hoffman being interviewed on-set back in 2015, so like many first features it’s taken a few years to find its way to release. This looks like an exciting and singular interpretation that I can’t wait to see.
Sweet Magnolias (Netflix series)
showrunner Sheryl J. Anderson
The show is based on a book series of the same name by Sherryl Woods. It stars Monica Potter, Brooke Elliott, and Heather Headley. I’ve been a fan of Potter since her “Boston Legal” days, but she’s much better known as Kristina Braverman from “Parenthood”. “Sweet Magnolias” focuses on three women in South Carolina as they start a business together and navigate relationships.
Showrunner Sheryl J. Anderson got her start as a writer on the 90s series “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose”. Since then, she’s written on a range of series, but her standout work was as a producer and writer on the original “Charmed”. Outside of TV, she’s also a mystery writer whose Molly Forrester series follows an advice columnist who investigates murders.
An interesting side note – like most shows and movies taking place in the Southeast, “Sweet Magnolias” is shot in Georgia. It’s not as widely recognized, but Atlanta now rivals Hollywood as a center for TV and film production. This is due to heavy investment from Disney (especially through their Marvel films and shows) and Tyler Perry Studios, among many others.
“Sweet Magnolias” is viewable through a Netflix subscription.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (digital rental)
directed by Elizabeth Carroll
OK, first off I take issue with one thing this trailer says: “How can it be that a white, British woman knows more about Mexican food than anybody?” While it sounds like Kennedy has worked incredibly hard, I don’t mean to direct this at her – I mean to direct this at audiences and publishing structures. They are more likely to publish and publicize a white, British woman complete with British accent telling people about Mexican cooking than a brown, Mexican woman with a Mexican accent.
White audiences are also more likely to view and buy books of that British woman telling them about Mexican cooking than a Mexican woman doing so. Let’s get that out of the way.
White audiences constantly have the perception that white people can go native and become experts who surpass the people whose culture this is, because that serves a very soft narrative of supremacy that is comforting to them. Kennedy very likely doesn’t know more about Mexican food than many Mexican chefs. She may stand among them, she may be an absolute expert, but that doesn’t make her the only voice that should be listened to, or one that surpasses and overrides Mexican voices. To white audiences she’s the voice about Mexican cooking that they have access to, and so they come away with the idea that she must be the best at it.
None of this is to knock Kennedy and her extremely hard work. In fact, I’d say that line does a disservice to Kennedy and her work. I’m fine with her being praised or adopted into the culture – especially because adopting people who work hard to understand and respect the culture is an important part of Mexican culture. It’s to knock how white exceptionalism is sold to us and reinforced, and how audiences – and even allies in those audiences – are often eager to lap it up.
The documentary otherwise looks lovely and I’m sure there’s a lot to learn, but this is important to highlight. The idea that we’re only the good option for a job if there’s no white alternative available to do it is a commonly accepted attitude of white supremacy that Latinx people in countries like the U.S. and U.K. face very regularly.
Distributor Greenwich Entertainment hasn’t exactly made it easy to watch, either, with day-and-date live viewings with virtual Q&A sessions with director Elizabeth Carroll on Zoom for $10. It’s way more of a maze than it should be, but the best way to pin down a way to view it is on their Twitter.
Take a look at new movies + shows by women from past weeks.
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