The Kino Marquee initiative allows movie fans to support their local theaters while staying at home.

Folks involved in the world of independent cinema are accustomed to living without the deep pockets of major studios. But now, in the wake of the coronavirus, they're having to learn how to survive in a world without theaters as well.

Last month, with cinemas going dark around the U.S., indie distribution company Kino Lorber launched a virtual exhibition initiative called Kino Marquee which allowed movie audiences to support their local theaters by buying tickets through the cinemas' websites to view films digitally. At first, the initiative covered around a dozen cinemas but last week it was announced that 150 arthouse theaters had signed on to screen Kino Marquee's first major release, the Brazilian thriller Bacurau.

"Bacurau had already been booked in about 50 theaters traditionally," says Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber. The critically acclaimed film had already played in New York for a week before theaters had started shuttering and was doing "very well." The current crisis could have prevented the movie from progressing further in its release — and in a physical sense it did. But the Kino Marquee initiative allowed cinemas to still screen Bacurau to their audiences. "Those first 11 or 12 theaters [earned] real numbers — they were thousands of dollars, not hundreds," says Lorber. "They were a meaningful indication that there was a customer base that was willing to pay and theaters are sharing [in] approximately 50 percent of the ticket price." More theaters soon showed interest in joining the initiative. "Before we’d even finished the first three or four days with those theaters we immediately had another forty signing on, and then another forty, and then the Drafthouse chain and Laemmles came aboard." says Lorber. "Now we probably have close to 200 theaters that are taking Bacurau and other films that we’ve launched including the Ken Loach film Sorry We Missed You." Lorber insists that Kino Marquee is not an attempt to hijack the theaters' customer base. "We’re not interested in doing that," he says.

On Monday, it was announced that Kino Lorber had struck a deal with Good Deal Entertainment to release will the supernatural comedy Extraordinary which stars  Will Forte, and premiered on Kino Marquee yesterday.

Extra Ordinary
Credit: Blinder Films

"Extraordinary is an Irish film which is an absolute hysterical hoot," says Lorber. "It’s a very smart film that has some wonderful special effects and I think it's going to be a hit in the circuit that we’re in."

Kino Lorber is not the only distribution experimenting with bringing indie movies into people's homes at a time when they are being encouraged not to leave them. "There’s a program that was launched by Music Box, there's another one that was launched by Oscilloscope, another one that was launched by Film Movement," says Lorber. "They’re all doing it in slightly different ways."

Of course, while films may continue to be released none are actually being made. Will this result in an indie movie shortage down the line? And what would that mean for both the festival circuit and for independent cinemas, both of which rely on new product?

"It’s so hard to imagine a shortage of films at this point," says Lorber, with a laugh. "I think that we’ve got a backlog that would last us for the indefinite future. The problem is that there’s going to be a traffic jam going into the fall. Let’s say theaters do reopen some time during the summer, come end of summer and fall a lot of films that had been held back rather than going the virtual route, as we’re doing, they’re going to be stacked up like planes on the tarmac during a hurricane or something. It’s just going to be a bloodbath in terms of that."

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