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Social Distance Cinema: Local theaters offer virtual screenings for couch streamers

J.R. McMillan

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Though there is plenty of pain to go around, no industry has been more fundamentally disrupted than movie theaters, perhaps permanently. Exactly how bad is it? Studios have all but halted production and box office reporting has been suspended. Instead of celebrating their 100-year anniversary, AMC Theatres, the largest chain in the world, is hurtling toward bankruptcy.

No one wants to get into a contest of who has it worse, but when your entire business model is based on hundreds of strangers sitting elbow-to-elbow, there’s just no way to stay open when most of the country has been ordered to stay home.

But Columbus seems to find new ways everyday to get creative in a crisis, and our independent theater community is no exception. Though there is no shortage of content available from an ever-expanding arena of streaming services, watching a story unfold on an enormous screen as part of an audience is as absent as the aroma of fresh, buttered popcorn. Even though we may be a long way from anything approaching what once was, local theaters are finding innovative alternatives to stay connected to their loyal patrons, even if it sometimes feels like we’ve all been cast in a disaster movie.

“The virtual screening room isn’t new. We’ve been offering an on-demand channel as a way for people to see films they may have missed. Curating films supports our mission and also enhances our community,” explained Chris Hamel, president of the Gateway Film Center. “So when we were forced to suspend our normal programming, we just ramped up these opportunities and added our virtual screen.”

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Independent theaters, specifically those that specialize in so-called arthouse features, have always been masters of improvisation without the deep budgets or blockbuster revenues of their mainstream counterparts. Now that notable nimbleness has become an appreciable asset. “Conversations from the Center” was another initiative that required rapid reinvention. The discussion of influential films and industry insights also moved online.

”I think we exceeded our expectations to some degree and we’ve got really great opportunities for the audience to engage moving forward,” Hamel revealed. “It doesn’t replace the cinema experience completely, but it is a nice way for us to continue to engage with our audience.”

For about the price of a typical ticket, you can buy a virtual one through their website, with a comparable percentage of proceeds going back to the theater. The process is a little different depending on the film and the distributor, but is very similar to renting a movie to stream at home with a limited viewing window. Selections aren’t exhaustive, but thoughtfully chosen as always. Features so far have included The Whistlers, a Romanian heist film with more than a hint of the Coen Brothers to the overdue backstory of the breakup of The Band, Once Were Brothers, a fitting bookend to Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz. If escape is more your speed, they’ve even offered a fascinating documentary on fungi and a critically-acclaimed collection of cat videos. There really is something for everyone.

“The indie film market was starting to pick back up. In January, we still had Parasite and 1917 and a lot of those films were still very strong and were able to carry through to the Oscars. Our virtual screenings are all films we would have shown anyway,” noted Jeremy Henthorn, theatre director at Drexel Theatre. “Our sci-fi marathon and series are postponed, not cancelled. If there is a bright side to all of this, presuming everyone is able to open by July or August, there will be a lot more options and choices to see later in the year. It’s always good to have something new for audiences.”

While still considering virtual screenings, Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse recently launched their in-house kitchen, Fibonacci’s Pizzeria, and now serves craft pies, subs, and salads to-go. Both the Clintonville theater and their sister screen, Grandview Theater & Drafthouse, are filling growlers with your favorite craft beer, and will gladly pour some M&Ms over your tub of popcorn. Strand Theatre in Delaware is likewise offering drive-by concessions, virtual screenings, and their projectionist is even posting weekly film reviews and recommendations to keep patrons connected. The South Drive-In is selling discounted gift cards and may be among the first local theaters to reopen. After all, drive-ins are the original social distance cinema.

Motion pictures since their start have always been an art of collective experience. Though there are now a near infinite number of options available online and easy to stream, sitting on your couch still doesn’t replace the immersive intent, nor is that the expectation. But buying virtual tickets, a couple of tubs of popcorn, the occasional pizza or jug of beer, and a few gift cards will hopefully ensure your favorite Hollywood haunt is still around when we can once again gather in in the dark and become part of a shared story. 

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Arts & Culture

Weekend Roundup: 5/29 – 5/31

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With Ohio slowly starting to fully reopen, initial in-person gatherings have trickled into our news feeds.

Below are a few things you can check out over the weekend if you’ve been itching to leave your house and are capable of following COVID-19 guidelines.

Friday

Fair Food Weekend @ Oakland Nursery

One of the most disappointing summertime cancellations was the axing of the Ohio State Fair. For those still wanting to get their elephant ears or deep-fried oreo fix, Chester Foods will be bringing a pop-up food truck to the Oakland Nursery. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, fried oreos, fresh-cut fries, and lemonade shake-ups will all be on the menu. Fair food will be set up on both Friday and Saturday.

Time: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. | Address: 4261 W. Dublin Granville Rd.

Saturday

Sonic The Hedgehog/Jumanji: The Next Level and The Hunt/The Invisible Man @ South Drive-In

With movie theaters in Ohio still closing their doors, the drive-in revival has been sweeping the state, nation, and world. Once drive-ins were given the go-ahead by DeWine, South Drive-In began to provide the double feature experience to eager moviegoers. Admission is $9.50 on Friday/Saturday and $7.50 on Sunday for those 12+, $2 for ages 5-11, and free for those under 4.

The showings for this weekend are as follows: 

Screen 1:

  • 9:05 p.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
  • 10:53 p.m. Jumanji: The Next Level (PG-13)
  • 12:56 a.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (Friday/Saturday only) 

Screen 2:

  • 9:25 p.m. The Hunt (R)
  • 11:05 p.m. The Invisible Man (R)
  • 1:09 a.m. The Hunt (Friday/Saturday only)

Check out the South Drive-In website to see what social distancing guidelines need to be followed.

Time: Arrive 1-2 hours prior to first showing | Address: 3050 S. High St.

Sunday

Reggae on the Patio @ Skully’s Music-Diner

If you’re in search of a relaxing Sunday, look no further than Skully’s. The music venue/bar will be opening its patio for those to have socially distance hangs, drinks, and wings. Skully’s will be setting the mood perfectly for a chill Sunday by spinning reggae music all night long. Get yourself out of the house and go catch some island vibes.

Time: 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. | Address: 1151 N. High St.

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SoHud Collective provides fresh, stylish open-air experience

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The fear of ever going back inside of a building that’s not your home has become a general widespread worry. Open-air markets and garage sales are going to be a hot commodity this summer, and one new company has already taken a proactive and stylish approach to fill that need for consumers.

SoHud Collective is one of the first Columbus-based companies to corner this emerging market. The boutique pop-up shop, founded on the principle of friendships formed around fashion, art, and plants, hosted their first event on Saturday, May 23. 

And oh yeah, free lemonade.

An assortment of deep vintage finds at an incredibly reasonable price will leave you walking away with at least one purchase. The first installment took place on the corner of Hudson and Summit, across the street from Evolved Body Art.

The idea of a pop-up shop at this corner may be a new idea, but the format has been around for ages. Why SoHud Collective is important right now boils down to the consumers’ desire for an out-of-house experience and the employees’ obvious shared compassion for each other and thrifting.

“Fashion has been the glue to our friendship,” said the SoHud Collective, made up of Taylor, Connor, and Hayden. “We thrift together, we borrow each other’s clothing, and we send each other pictures of our outfits before we leave the house.”

A company formed on friendships in the SoHud region, the group behind this passion project has a specific goal in mind when passing down their used goods: keep the SoHud community stylin’. 

“Some of us have lost our jobs due to Covid-19, and this was a great way to keep our spirits up and redirect our attention to something that truly fulfills us,” the SoHud Collective said.

The items featured in the monthly pop-ups are passed down from an assortment of thrifting havens. Closets. Basements. Other thrift stores. Grandmas.

From shoes to shirts, Atari systems to board games, SoHud Collective is elevating the thrifting experience in the time of coronavirus.

“Currently, our focus is on elevating our display and merchandising technique to really give the people an experience and a fierce outfit and home decor to create that perfect photo for Instagram, the SoHud Collective said.”

SoHud Collective would like to thank Evolved for letting it use its parking lot for May’s edition of the pop-up. With a goal to have an installment of SoHud Collective once a month, the pop-up shop will return to the same location on June 27 (11 a.m. until 7 p.m.) and 28 (11 a.m. until 4 p.m.). 

A charity table where all proceeds will go to clothing the homeless LGBTQ youth in Columbus will be present as well. 

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Loop Daddy invades Columbus with first-ever drive-in tour

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The return of live music is going to be one of the trickiest industries to transition back into business as usual, if that will ever be the case. We’ve seen people getting creative, building concert stages within their own homes via live streaming. Some have participated in virtual festivals, probably the sector of live music to take the biggest hit.

But when an industry made up of innovative creatives always trying to come up with the next big idea is faced with incredible hardships, they respond with quick-witted imaginative solutions.

One of the first trends that popped up in the revolution of bringing back live music was the implementation of drive-in lots. Luckily for Columbus, the darling of the internet DJ scene Marc Rebillet aka Loop Daddy will be taking his first-ever drive-in tour through the Buckeye state in mid-June.

Captivating audiences with his participatory DJ scratching and immature antics, extremely goofy sex appeal, and sleazy porno stache, Rebillet was an act poised for a breakout summer before the pandemic shut music concert venues down. If you have access to a car, though, you’ll still have a chance to catch the wild virtual sensation.

On June 14, Rebillet will be pulling up to the South Drive-In for the third stop of his Drive-In Concert Tour. Rebillet will also be showcasing short films as part of his drive-in experience.

As far as sound is going for these events, a lot of drive-ins are opting to go the radio transmission route to encourage people to stay inside of their vehicles.

A very few grouping of tickets remain, which include three-person and four-person car passes. Tickets are running $40 per head (plus additional fees), which seems to be the average across the new wave of drive-in concerts. Two-people/one-car tickets have already sold out.

If you don’t want to miss out on this unique opportunity, act right now. Tickets can be purchased at:

https://nightout.com/events/marc-rebillet-drive-in-tour-columbus-ohio-south-drive-in-presented-by-hotbox/tickets.

Social distancing guidelines are outlined at the point of purchase.

The South Drive-In is located at 3050 S. High St. Doors open at 8 p.m. with the show beginning at 9 p.m. Attendees need to arrive before 8:45 p.m. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

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