We've never had more options for what to watch at home—opening Netflix or Amazon Prime is like walking into a Blockbuster Video the size of Sea-Tac Airport. Even though they offer endless titles and an impressive movie-per-dollar ratio, not everyone is fully satisfied by the Super Walmarts of online streaming. For years, web-inclined film buffs have been turning to services like Fandor, Sundance Now, and (since November 2016) FilmStruck, a subscription service offering access to hard-to-find classics, cult favorites, foreign films, and documentaries.
Created as a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and Criterion, FilmStruck is a streaming platform that offers hundreds of movies instead of thousands. There are two tiers of memberships available—and if you're interested in the service at all, you should spring for the more expensive option that includes the Criterion features. Their rotating lineup, though it's relatively modest in size, currently boasts 27 works by Akira Kurosawa, 42 by Ingmar Bergman, and 18 by Jean Renoir. Their goal is expert curation, not unbeatable quantity. And soon, representatives from FilmStruck will be on their way to Seattle to film a new installment of their original series Art-House America.
Art-House America pairs short documentary profiles of independent cinemas (they've featured NYC's Walter Reade Theater and Juneau's Gold Town Nickelodeon) with a selection of films chosen by each theater's director. It's a peek into the lives of film lovers across America, a way to emphasize the impact indie theaters have on communities big and small, and a demonstration of what defines and inspires filmmaking in different regions.
For this episode, they'll visit Northwest Film Forum during the opening weekend of the 20th annual Local Sightings (Sept 22–30), the Pacific Northwest–oriented film festival that creates a high-energy space for local skill and innovation. While Seattle International Film Festival is the city's highest profile film festival, Local Sightings is the one that best captures the accomplishments of our region's artists—and is most likely to feature work by talented filmmakers who haven't yet achieved recognition alongside acclaimed festival favorites.
This year's lineup includes No Man's Land, a documentary about the infamous and militant 41-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon; Walking Out, a drama about a hunting trip gone wrong in Montana; and 6 Dynamic Laws for Success in Life, Love & Money, a comedic noir that looks a little reminiscent of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In addition to the promising features and shorts offered by the festival, NWFF will also host workshops, talks, and virtual-reality experiences (including a dance-focused work featuring zoe | juniper and the sci-fi short Auto by Steven Schardt, which premiered at Tribeca and was acquired by the virtual reality studio Wevr in May).
The programs and services offered by art-house theaters are, of course, indispensable resources for people who consider themselves film experts. But the biggest benefits are not for aficionados, who've done their own research and know exactly what they want to see, but for amateurs. The lineups at independent cinemas are the result of many hours of digging, reading, and watching, and the films are chosen based on their cultural and artistic impact. Northwest Film Forum has done the work just for you.
It makes sense that FilmStruck wants to celebrate venues like these across the country: Art-house theaters excel at education, which also happens to be FilmStruck's strong suit. Fandor (which has faced an uncertain future and seen some dramatic leadership changes over the past few years) is FilmStruck's most formidable challenger. The size of Fandor's library is closer to Netflix's than to FilmStruck's, and it's growing rapidly—on September 7, Fandor announced a new licensing agreements with Lionsgate and MGM that will grant it streaming rights to hundreds of new titles including The Graduate and Mad Max. But FilmStruck is not going for size; it's more focused on curatorial excellence and its educational potential.
FilmStruck's collection features the standard categories (drama, comedy, documentary) alongside artfully created film groupings that will inspire evenings or weeks of movie watching, like "Tatsuya Nakadai on Five Japanese Masters," "Creative Marriages: Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais," "Early Sirk," and even "Booed at Cannes." There are academic lectures, weekly double-feature pairings, and recommendations from notable directors. And because this is a Criterion collaboration, the movie extras are often just as important as the features—for example, the Tampopo package includes a 90-minute documentary about the making of the film, a 10-minute video essay that investigates the ramen western's themes, a 22-minute documentary featuring interviews with ramen experts and chefs, the director's debut, Rubber Band Pistol, and two exclusive Criterion interviews with the lead actress and the film's food stylist.
Outside the home, there is no better place to learn about film than independent cinemas. Judging by FilmStruck's first year, it might be the best way to learn about film while planted on the couch wearing pajamas. Participate in both—and enjoy excellent movies from the Pacific Northwest—by filling out the curious and fun-loving crowds at Local Sightings.