By Dale Grummert
For Inland 360
Earlier this year, the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow was priming its moviegoing faithful for its presentation of “Saint Frances,” an upstart independent film that had won an Audience Award last year at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.
Then came the Ides of March.
Three days before the scheduled first screening of “Saint Frances” on March 19, the Kenworthy joined the innumerable list of businesses forced to close their doors indefinitely in deference to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Kenworthy patrons who were intrigued by the “Saint Frances” trailer can still watch the film, thanks to a streaming service dubbed “At Home With the Kenworthy.”
Like many art- and indie-film theaters across the country, the Kenworthy is trying to maintain a connection with its audience by streaming online content from various sources, some of it free and much of it unavailable on standard sites like Netflix.
“It’s pretty easy for people to get things like ‘The Avengers,’” said Jamie Hill, operations manager at the Kenworthy, “but to get things like ‘Saint Frances,’ some of those independent studios are reaching out to art-house theaters, trying to figure out how to get those to new platforms so people can still enjoy them.”
In the case of “Saint Frances,” the Kenworthy website directs you to the film’s distributor, which for $10 sends you a link to the film — possibly with a delay, since an Oscilloscope employee is handling requests manually.
Other offerings are more straightforward. Among them are several dozen indie and foreign movies of recent years, provided through the distributor Music Box Films and available for purchase ($10-15-ish) or two-day rental ($2-4-ish). Because the Kenworthy is a good customer for Music Box, its patrons are being offered a 30-day free trial to this service.
From the Music Box fare, members of the Kenworthy staff are recommending a few “hand-picked” films for the crisis at hand, including the 2012 documentary “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” and Terence Davies’ 2016 biopic of that exemplar of social distancing, Emily Dickinson, “A Quiet Passion.”
The Kenworthy’s free content includes short films from the virus-vanquished 2020 South by Southwest festival that was supposed to happen last month, and links to YouTube videos of plays from the National Theatre, London.
For Kenworthy fans who’ve developed a taste for opera in recent years through the theater’s livestreaming from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, there’s now access to videos of some of the Met’s productions of the past decade. They’re a lot less pricey than the livestreaming, especially during the seven-day free trial.
“At Home With the Kenworthy” is only six weeks old, and Hill said last week it was too early to gauge its success. Movie theaters, especially art houses in small university towns, ultimately need live humans walking through their doors.
“We’re optimistic,” Hill said. “We’re a community gathering space, and we know our community relies on us being here. So we’re very hopeful that we can gather as a community again, that people will be here to support us and help pick things up once it’s possible.”
In the meantime, Hill is heartened by something she’s noticed about the worldwide response to self- isolating. Stuck at home, people seem to need art more than ever.
In a weird way, it validates what the folks at the Kenworthy provide. They’re just trying to figure out a way to provide it.