Now Playing! Cinema at Home, From Your Favorite Local Theaters

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Still from 'José.' (Courtesy of the Roxie)

In the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown, both the trade and mainstream press fretted that the spike in home streaming would accelerate the decline, if not demise, of the theater experience. Even at this premature date, it seems safe to conclude that, for better or worse, it will take more than a pandemic to knock out Hollywood blockbusters and the multiplexes that show them.

On the contrary, sheltering in one’s own place has reminded us of the fundamental need to congregate with strangers in public spaces. I’ll wager that well after lockdown fever has subsided and pent-up demand is fulfilled—by next summer, let’s say—people will pack movie theaters in numbers not seen since the turn of the millennium.

Arthouse cinemas, located in dense urban centers and catering to diverse tastes, will likewise thrive. Even now, the arthouses—in partnership with innovative independent distributors—have been quick to respond to the current climate via virtual cinemas. As an alternative to video on demand through your cable TV box, your favorite theater is offering new foreign films, indies and documentaries for your rental pleasure.

Cinema at home provides a revenue stream for specialized theaters, and a way for filmgoers to support their local haunts until we can amble down the aisles in person. The programming typically combines wide releases with exclusive picks, sometimes with variable pricing. Bookmark this page and check your favorite theater’s offerings regularly.

Still from 'Lucky Grandma.' (Courtesy of the Roxie)

Alamo Drafthouse
The Texas chain with the Mission District outpost has an extensive online selection, Alamo On Demand, that ranges from this week’s releases (Lucky Grandma) to recent stuff you may have missed (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) to vintage faves (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School).

The East Bay pantheon’s online cinema, BAMPFA from Home, hosts limited runs of restorations and revivals (Hungarian director István Szabó’s ’80s triumphs Confidence, Mephisto and Colonel Redl) as well as hotly anticipated new films (The Cordillera of Dreams, Patricio Guzmán’s latest profound essay on Chilean geography, politics and memory).

The nonprofit parent of the Balboa and the Vogue has curated an excellent virtual screening room of new and recent films. The foodie doc Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is on now, with Penny Lane’s latest curio, Hail Satan? opening Friday, June 5. Mark your calendar for June 26 and Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things.


Marin’s indie stalwart offers a wide-ranging smorgasbord, from the timely (unhappily so) documentary American Trial: The Eric Garner Story to the British heart-tugger Military Wives (starring international treasure Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan).

Ursula von Rydinsgsvard's sculpture 'Ona' at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013. (Courtesy of the filmmaker)

Roxie Virtual Cinema is the place to find fringier docs and indies like José, Li Cheng’s gay love story set in Guatemala City. The Roxie also programs non-exclusives, such as Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own, a portrait of the revered sculptor opening Friday, June 5 at several of the theaters on this list.

Smith Rafael Film Center
The California Film Institute’s Rafael@Home offers an eclectic and often-surprising lineup, including the work of Marin County filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamura (the splendidly restored 1991 Western Thousand Pieces of Gold, pairing a young Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper) and Eli Adler (Surviving Skokie, a gripping 2015 doc about post-Holocaust anti-Semitism).

While some films are only available for a limited time, it turns out it’s often easier to extend a virtual booking than a physical one. That’s not a reason to procrastinate, mind you, but it is a rare silver lining in the current maelstrom.