Throughout December and into 2021, we’re publishing our Best of the Bay 2020 Editors’ Picks, highlighting some of the tremendous people, places, and things that made the Bay Area shine during one heck of a year. View our Best of the Bay 2020 Readers Poll winners and our Readers’ Stories of Resilience here.
One of the first casualties of COVID were movie theaters, which were shut down for much of 2020—then shut down again after a brief, restrictive re-opening that not all could take advantage of. Whether they’ll ever fully recover as an industry is a big question mark. But many venues found ways to continue serving their audience despite it all, and none were quicker or more thorough in that task than SF’s beloved Roxie Theater.
Roxie Virtual Cinema came on the scene to offer a streaming alternative to what would have been their normal programming almost as soon as the shutdown occurred. It’s hosted special events, mini-festivals, filmmaker Q&As, revivals, and new releases, some of which “ran” for months.
Many of the films were ones that otherwise might have gotten no targeted local platform, and more than a few were among the best the year had to offer. That included archival features like the 1970 underground rarity Gay San Francisco, Bela Tarr’s seven-hour Bela Tarr Satantango, Rudy Ray Moore’s outrageous Petey Wheatstraw, 1959’s all-star concert film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, psychedelic Hungarian ‘toon Son of the White Mare, Robert Kramer’s epic road trip Route One USA, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, Ming-liang Tsai’s Taiwanese musical The Hole, and a raft of Wong Kar Wais,
Among new narrative features, there was Georgian drama And Then We Danced, Brazilian revisionist “western” Bacurau, animated objets d’art The Wolf House and Marora’s Fantastic Tale, Guatemalan gay romance Jose, deadpan Chinese-American comedy Lucky Grandma and Scottish youth explosion Beats. Documentaries encompassed Patrizio Guzman’s latest meditation on Chilean history The Cordillera of Dreams, world economic dissection Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 1970s flashback Spaceship Earth, ACLU-in-action survey The Fight, Showgirls appreciation You Don’t Nomi, plus various artists portraits from Ella to Zappa.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg, with over 200 unique online programs in total. While much of the world was scouring Netflix for quarantine viewing, the Roxie provided all the options that mainstream commercial VOD platforms generally can’t be bothered to provide. Kudos also to CinemaSF, Rafael@Home, BAMPFA and other local platforms for keeping the virtual-cinema home fires burning. —Dennis Harvey