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The Art House Film Service Banking On The Power of 'Both,' Making Streaming An Elite Indie Cinema

ES Staff  |  Indie Film Headlines

One art house streaming service is using its reputation among viewers to promote critically acclaimed films and worldwide treasures screening in the nation's smaller movie theaters, many of which are recovering from the pandemic.

Mubi, a $10.99-a-month company, has introduced a membership that allows clients to view a movie in cinemas once a week for free. Mubi Go launched in New York, Britain, and India. Cha Cha Real Smooth will debut on Apple TV+ and Mubi Go in Los Angeles on Friday.

Movie subscriptions aren't new. AMC, Cinemark, and Regal have varied ticket pricing structures and concession options. Mubi picks which movies members can watch in theaters and partners with venues to exchange tickets.

"Some of the best goods don't have significant marketing budgets," says C. Mason Wells, Mubi's US distribution director. " Unfamiliar movies. If you trust us and our curation, you'll be pleasantly surprised by our offerings.

Cha Cha Real Smooth tickets are available through Mubi at the Laemmle Theatre's Monica Film Center, Glendale, NoHo 7 and Town Center 5 locations in Los Angeles. Wells expects most independent cinemas in L.A. to participate.

The Mubi program launched in New York City last year with Oscar-winning films like Drive My Car and The Power of the Dog.

The idea is to boost attendance for films without studio-sponsored marketing efforts or pop culture notoriety, like Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion. Mubi promotes mom-and-pop cinemas, even if AMC and Regal also play independent films.

Wells, who worked at Kino Lorber and helped reopen the Quad Cinema in New York, sees it as a way to draw younger people to art house cinemas, which are usually attended by older people. Mubi Go users are mostly under 44. He said that's not the typical American art-house audience.

After establishing itself in Los Angeles, Mubi plans to expand to locations like Chicago and Portland, Ore., similar to the "platform release" of an independent film, when a distributor starts in the larger cities and spreads out as momentum builds.

Kanopy and Fandor specialize on independent film and documentaries because WarnerMedia under AT&T dropped FilmStruck for being too "niche."

Mubi, which has 10 million subscribers worldwide, is a streaming service for movie fans that find the Criterion Channel too popular.

"Film a week" enhances Mubi's devotion to extreme selection. Mubi offers one movie per day instead of a smorgasbord of options. The Demons of Dorothy, a 29-minute French video described as "a blend of John Waters and Ryan Trecartin," was released Monday.

The single-movie technique combats users becoming paralyzed by the sheer amount of selections on larger streaming services, a problem psychologist Barry Schwartz initially outlined in his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice. Mubi and Mubi Go are more like a book club or wine delivery service than Walmart.

Post-pandemic rehabilitation has been tough for independent and smaller theaters. Digital distributors like Kino Lorber supported theaters amid government-mandated closures by staging "virtual cinema" screenings, effectively digital rentals that allowed community theaters to generate some money.

The company's closure is still felt in major cinema towns. This month, Los Angeles' Landmark on Pico Boulevard closed after 15 years. Landmark Theatres leased Pasadena's Laemmle's Playhouse 7. Both Los Feliz's Vista and Hollywood's ArcLight are closed for renovations.

Independent film needs more theater releases to rebound. Netflix and Apple TV+ are increasingly interested in releasing their expensive blockbusters and festival picks in theaters, appreciating the cultural significance of a theatrical campaign vs dumping a prestigious picture into the online emptiness of endless choice.

Mubi feels streaming and theatres aren't in a zero-sum fight, like how VHS and Blu-ray devastated Hollywood's old sector. People that view the most online content also visit the cinema, according to a 2020 Ernst & Young survey. 35% of those who streamed the most (15+ hours per week) also went to the movies 9+ times per year.

Wells says these things cooperate, communicate, and aren't exclusive. That's our goal.

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