Malibu Film Society Keeps up With the Times

Now that the pandemic is stretching into its 10th month (and it feels like most of us have already seen everything worth watching on Netflix), there’s hope! You can now check out some of the year’s best new movies on your own “big screen,” thanks to the Malibu Film Society (MFS).

MFS has a slate of constantly updated new and pre-release movies available for virtual viewing between now and the Oscars on April 25. In addition, the society is also producing its own Q&As to accompany each film, featuring interviews with the directors, producers, writers and actors.

“For all the talk about this being an asterisk year for the Oscars, it’s anything but, as the depth of exceptional movies is remarkable,” the LA Times wrote last Friday. Yes, fantastic new films are still being released even though few theaters are open.

Although MFS operates year-round, in a normal year the vast majority of the 70-80 screenings are held during “awards season”—that time of year when industry professionals watch films and vote for their favorites.

Usually, the season runs from October into February; this year, the timing will be different, with screenings continuing well into April (the 93rd annual Academy Awards is scheduled for April 25; the Golden Globes will also be held much later than usual this year, on Feb. 28.)

“Early on, everyone realized that going virtual was the only safe way to [show awards season movies] during the pandemic. It just took a while to work out the logistics,” Scott Tallal, MFS executive director, said. “The good news is that, beginning in December, everything really started falling into place. It’s continued to ramp up ever since, with MFS getting upwards of a dozen studio bookings a week.

“Many films have been held from release this year because the theaters are still closed. But it’s an especially good year for documentaries and international features because they’re not as reliant on U.S. box office revenue,” he continued. “International films qualify much earlier than the rest of the film categories competing for Oscars, with many of them released in their home countries back in 2019.”

And the society is taking full advantage.

“We’re exceptionally fortunate so far this season,” Tallal said. “We already signed a total of 40 films, with at least another dozen promised to us later this season. It’s not that far off from what we get in a normal year. On any given day, our members have six to eight movies to choose from online, but as this month goes on, we could have as many as 14.” 

Tallal also explained that, while some studios offer academy and guild voters a viewing window as short as a few hours, the film society makes each movie available for up to two weeks. And they have a Q&A for every film. 

“Studios have been very receptive to this plan because it gives our members the opportunity to watch when it best fits their schedule,” Tallal said. “As for the Q&As, those involved in making these films are trapped at home just like everyone else during the pandemic, so they’re available for virtual interviews. As a result, we’re able to share some very insightful conversations with our audience.”

MFS also shows its members how they can watch the films on their own big-screen TV—not just a PC or laptop.

Compared to years past, Tallal joked that, “We certainly miss the camaraderie of having everyone together in person for these screenings, but at least they’re at home where they can pop their own popcorn and pour their own wine.”

Membership in MFS is open to the entire community, not just those in the film industry. Anyone can join by going to malibufilmsociety.org to sign up, and then get links to the films and Q&As. For virtual screenings, a fee of $250/year covers everyone in a household—well under the typical pay-per-view cost for this many films. MFS offers complimentary membership to academy and guild voters, with more details available on the website.

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