Along with pubs, bars, theatres, and restaurants, one of the venues that has been most sorely missed during lockdown was our high street connection to Hollywood: the cinema.
Major chains like Odeon, Vue, and Cineworld closed in the UK for approximately three and a half months when all non-essential leisure and hospitality businesses were ordered to shut their doors. As well as causing delays for major blockbusters such as Tenet and No Time To Die, this also meant that people increasingly turned to streaming services and the internet to watch new and old releases alike.
Read on to find out more about what virtual movie clubs are, why they exist, and how you can access them at home.
What Are They & Why Do They Exist?
Virtual movie clubs are a relatively straightforward concept. Sometimes they’re started by cinemas looking to reach to old audiences at home, such as Secret Cinema’s Secret Sofa, while others are simply founded by groups of bored film buffs who can’t wait to go back to paying £20 for a ticket, drink, and popcorn combo.
The clubs will generally choose a film for its members, not dissimilar to a weekly book club picking a new novel for readers. Most will then provide links to other platforms where the film can be purchased, rented, or streamed.
There will generally be a dedicated period for everyone to watch the film (often a single day) before discussion sessions that take place over either a video call or more widely across social media.
In this case, there will be hashtags or groups associated with the club in question to allow viewers from across the world to join the conversation and ask questions about the chosen film.
Why Would You Pick A Virtual Movie Club?
Virtual movie clubs are a great way to watch films and participate in a wider discussion about them while cinemas are closed or operating at limited capacity.
They’re also a great way to experience classics and older films that you never got to see on the big screen when they were first released. A virtual movie club creates a buzz and discussion around a particular movie, starting debates about cinema that would otherwise not be taking place.
Many of them are also themed; some clubs will focus on major pictures throughout history (such as the AFI Movie Club) while others will look at works from other countries (Kino Klassika, London Indian Film Festival) or genres (National Geographic, Everyman).
Virtual movie clubs also often attract people from within the world of cinema to interact with a new audience. This might mean directors carrying out post-film Q&A sessions with audiences, for instance, or “watching along” with the audience.
Finally, they’re a great way to learn more about films and cinema more widely. As well as introducing you to films that might have otherwise never seen the light of day, virtual movie clubs bring you into a broader discussion between cinema buffs. They’re the perfect way to learn more about cinematography, directing, and even film trivia at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home.
While virtual movie clubs are a great way to engage with other film buffs and enthusiasts, they might not be for everyone. Some people prefer to watch films in a vacuum, switching the lights off and removing any possible nearby interruptions to truly engage with a movie.
As a virtual movie club often means engaging with the world “beyond” the film - through social media, video conferencing apps, or even live chats and comments sections - it is likely to be fraught with potential distractions.
They can also be expensive, as many of these films aren’t by default available on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and have to be purchased or rented separately.
How To Find Them
As there are so many available across the internet, there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for virtual movie clubs. The best thing to do is to figure out what you want to watch, and who you want to watch it with.
Do you want to watch your favourite blockbusters along with actors and directors, or do you want a club to force you out of your comfort zone and make you try something new?
No matter what you’re after, we put together a list of five of the most popular virtual movie clubs to do some of the thinking for you:
- BFI at Home, every Thursday
- AFI Movie Club, daily
- Curzon Home Cinema, weekly
- Everyman House Party, every Friday
- South Social Film Festival, every Saturday/Sunday
These cover a variety of different films, and within them, there is likely to be something for everyone. While the AFI Movie Club focuses on US blockbusters through the ages, the BFI at Home club focuses more on indie and British film. The Curzon Home Cinema offers a range of both high and low-budget flicks, as does South Social Film Festival, while Everyman House Party focuses exclusively on what it calls “uplifters” - feel-good films from any category.
Virtual movie clubs may well not be for everyone, but if you’re keen to watch along with actors and directors, or join the discussion on social media, they may well be for you. They’re a new and unusual way to add a social element to the otherwise solitary activity of watching a film at home.