Filling a void, local film organizations create online streaming platforms

With movie theaters shuttered, the Twin Cities Film Fest and MSP Film Society created their own movie streaming platforms.

A cyclist rides past a vacant St. Anthony Main Theatre on Monday, April 6.

Parker Johnson

A cyclist rides past a vacant St. Anthony Main Theatre on Monday, April 6.

Alex Strangman

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put normal life on hold, film fans far and wide have had to switch the script.

While movie theaters aren’t operating, two local film organizations, Twin Cities Film Fest and MSP Film Society, are looking to fill the void with their own streaming platforms.

Currently all local theaters, including Landmark’s Uptown Theatre, Landmark’s Lagoon Cinema and AMC Rosedale 14, are closed.

St. Anthony Main Theater general manager Elliott Schofield said that no one really knows when the theater’s doors will reopen, but that it might use this time to do some renovations.

In light of the closures, Twin Cities Film Fest launched its own independent movie streaming platform, TCFF Streams, on April 6.

Right now there are 10 feature length independent films available on the platform, as well as three free short films, though TCFF founder and executive director Jatin Setia says the organization will be adding more films in the coming months.

Setia says creating a virtual platform is something TCFF has been wanting to do for a while and plans to keep the platform live even after the pandemic is over.

According to Setia, the platform provides access to indie movies in a way theaters don’t.

“I think a lot of consumers are looking at this like, ‘Hey, this might be an opportunity to engage in art that I typically wouldn’t,’” he said.

Operating as a video on demand service (VOD), no subscription is needed to use the platform. 

Similar to the iTunes model, a customer purchases a film for a set price (on TCFF Streams, that price is $5.99), giving them access to the film until it is no longer offered on the platform.

Currently the platform runs on a revenue share model, meaning all profits are split between TCFF and the independent filmmakers.

In addition to TCFF Streams, MSP Film Society is also offering its new Virtual Cinema Collection in response to pandemic-related closures.

The platform, which went live March 20, offers access to what MSP Film Society programming director Jesse Bishop calls “festival-style content.” The virtual cinema will open one to three new movies every Friday, with most films running for at least two weeks.

Ticket prices range from $10 to $12, and films are available for viewing anywhere from 48 hours to a few days after purchase, depending on the film.

Over the past few weeks, the virtual cinema has unveiled over 10 different independent films.

According to Bishop, MSP Film Society would like to go back to in-person showings once the pandemic is over but won’t rule out keeping the Virtual Cinema Collection online as an option.

“We’re a nonprofit organization that believes in the power of film in a cinema, a shared experience in the dark on a big screen, and we’ll continue to pursue that once this whole crisis passes. But, on some level, yeah, the genie — you really can’t put it back in the bottle,” he said.

Bishop also said there are currently plans being made for a “virtual film festival” to replace the annual MSP Film Festival, which was supposed to open April 9. He could not yet comment on the specifics of that event.