Filling the gap in a theater-less year

A variety of voices and predilections informed our robust film coverage in 2020.

A variety of voices and predilections informed our robust film coverage in 2020.

Covering film in 2020 has often been a bewildering endeavor, as audiences and distributors adapted to dominoing cancellations and ever-changing release scenarios. Lewis Peterson and I sat down in March to talk about home-viewing options as a means of tempering the initial panic and uncertainty. In September, a number of our writers (Edwanike Harbour, Jason Fuhrman, Steven Spoerl, Hanna Kohn, and myself) meditated on the meaning and value of the cinema right before cinemas seemed posited for a proper reopening.

In those brief moments at the end of summer, only a few blockbusters crept through that doomed, diminutive release window, and now virtual cinemas, video-on-demand, and streaming services have become the standard placeholder for the standard communal experience. With new films scattered across a vast virtual landscape, the scope and reach of cinema would naturally seem to be larger than ever, and yet it is largely confined to devices in living rooms, office spaces, and multi-purpose areas. Unless you had the rare chance of securing a ticket to MMoCA’s rescheduled Rooftop Cinema series or trekked to The Bodgery (or a drive-in) during warmer times, general film in 2020 has edged closer to the ever-presence of television—its treasured individuality as a medium yielding to the potential disruption of the everyday. 


But there are persistently hopeful reminders of cinema’s enduring role, both locally and otherwise. Without proper public venues to host their latest work, I assembled a list of films freely available from “Wisconsin’s Own” filmmakers in late March, and spoke to Middleton-based filmmakers Alex Miranda Cruz and Noel Miranda (of Bravebird) about their upcoming 2021 feature, Trace The Line, and ethical representation in “cinema dignité” in the fall. Our readers and monthly donors kept our film team tethered to the local community (and the farther reaches of the streaming universe) through their recurring monetary contributions and commitment to our coverage.

Mid-spring, I gained some insight from the Chicago-based team of Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson, whose Saint Frances saw critical acclaim throughout the world this year—one that revealed a sliver of the social desperation rippling throughout the US and in such films as Never Rarely Sometimes Always and even She Dies Tomorrow. Over the summer, I also spoke at length with UW-Madison professor and distinguished scholar Kelley Conway, about what the immediate future may hold for cinemas, including some reflections on the sudden change-up to the Wisconsin Film Festival, the Media History Digital Library, and her work with Agnès Varda and Criterion Collection.

At Tone Madison, we’re collectively proud of the consistently astute assessments of not only newer films but catalogue (or repertory) titles that may have otherwise made it to campus cinemas in a normal year. Maxwell Courtright, in particular, showed a commitment to everything from The Hours And Times early in the year at UW-Cinematheque, to streaming hit Palm Springs in July, to a number of MUBI-exclusive selections. But it was really the variety of voices and personal predilections that made Tone Madison’s film coverage interesting. 

Establishing a monthly gift to support Tone Madison will keep this variety of voices and local film coverage possible heading into the new year.

In January, look for the second installment of Edwanike Harbour’s new “Lucid Streaming” column, which will showcase underappreciated and unusual picks across the assortment of streaming services out there. While this month’s honed in on a single director (Antonio Campos), January’s lot will move to more international depths across dual platforms. Additionally, as I seem glued to my pair of earbuds lately, I’ve made loose plans to delve further into the world of cinema sound through a few interviews and longer-form features. And, of course, we welcome pitches for anything Wisconsin-centric.

Until we all may literally meet again, supporting cinema right now is imperative. Whether through curated services like MUBICriterion ChannelFilmatiqueFandorOVID (etc), buying a gift card to a theater, or making a donation to an organization like Friends Of Film or Wisconsin Film Festival, it’s honestly invaluable to encouraging artists, programmers, projectionists, and repairing a system that’s been momentarily broken. 

And it also speaks to the value and responsibility of Tone Madison. Please help us continue pursuing all the latest developments regionally and releases internationally by becoming a monthly Tone Madison Sustainer today

Hopefully, in 2020 we’ve been able to shed a bit of light through the narrow tunnel. Here’s to better times.

Thank you, and stay safe.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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