The recent DC Black Film Festival included a discussion among movie critics on recent changes in how films are both reviewed and seen by cinema lovers. Participants included Kevin Sampson (left), executive director, DC Black Film Festival, and Tim Gordon, Washington DC Film Critics Association president, executive director of the LightReel Film Festival and co-founder/director of the Black Reel Awards. Sampson and Gordon also serve as members of the Critics Choice Association. (Brenda C. Siler/The Washington Informer)
The recent DC Black Film Festival included a discussion among movie critics on recent changes in how films are both reviewed and seen by cinema lovers. Participants included Kevin Sampson (left), executive director, DC Black Film Festival, and Tim Gordon, Washington DC Film Critics Association president, executive director of the LightReel Film Festival and co-founder/director of the Black Reel Awards. Sampson and Gordon also serve as members of the Critics Choice Association. (Brenda C. Siler/The Washington Informer)

Future of Film Viewing Discussed at DC Black Film Festival

Film critics at the recent DC Black Film festival discussed how the pandemic changed film distribution and viewing along with what this means for film lovers.

Are Americans ready to go back to movie theaters given ongoing concerns about their health and issues of safety? 

The answer remains to be seen as results from the recent Labor Day weekend special which featured reduced theater tickets and snacks have not been released. 

Perhaps the real test may come in November with the release of “Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever.” 

But it’s not just movie patrons who appear to ponder whether they should return to theaters as movie critics also continue to express their own concerns. 

It’s a daunting issue as movie studios depend on reviews as a means of marketing films while cinema lovers often rely on reviews to steer their interests. Now, with in-theater releases immediately going to cable or streaming channels, it’s hard to stay on top of new releases. Meanwhile, some major releases, like “Top Gun 2,” hope to lure theatergoers to IMAX screens for an out-of-this-world entertainment experience.

“We’re living in the wild west of film right now,” Executive Director of the DC Black Film Festival Kevin Sampson said recently about the landscape for film critics. “Prior to COVID, we would get DVDs at the end of the year. Screening links were rare. What you see now are same-day theater and streaming releases.”

Before the pandemic, critics operated under a different process for viewing new films. Between the end of November and early December, D.C. area representatives for movie studios would invite critics to theaters with movies shown every four to five hours, often sponsoring movie marathons in anticipation of the upcoming awards season.

“You would see the same 40 critics three or four times a week,” said Washington DC Film Critics Association President Tim Gordon during a DC Black Film Festival panel. “With a screener link, we got comfortable with being at home. Nobody wanted to come back to the movies.”

During the recent DC Black Film Festival, Sampson noted that prior to COVID, there had been an unspoken rule that films would be shown in theaters for 90 days before going to cable. But in 2020, AMC Theaters cried foul when one major film release went straight to streaming, bypassing in-theater viewing.

According to Gordon, the season for film critics begins right after Labor Day with the Telluride (Colo.), Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, followed by the New York and Middleburg (Va.) Film Festivals which both take place in late September and continue through October, wrapping up the year for film critics. (D.C. area businesswoman and owner of the WNBA Washington Mystics Sheila Johnson serves as the founder of the festival in Middleburg). 

It goes without saying that the film industry environment has been upended due to the pandemic as many view streaming films as both more economical and safer for one’s health. 

“Rules are being written as we are living through the time,” Sampson said. “I have a friend who has four kids. He enjoyed streaming a platform during the quarantine and paying just one time. [Still], I don’t think this is going anywhere – people will always want to go to the movies and see things on a big screen.”

Learn more about Kevin Sampson at https://www.iamkevinsampson.com and check out his book “How To Be A Movie Critic: 16 Conversations With Critics Who Know” available on Amazon. Keep up with the DC Black Film Festival a competitive festival for emerging creatives at http://dcbff.org. Learn more about Tim Gordon’s Lakefront/Light Reel Film Festival at https://www.lakefrontfilmfest.com

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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