Chicago’s Independent Cinemas Find Creative Ways to Keep Us Entertained From Home

As we head into our second (and far from last) official week of Illinois's "Stay at Home" order, keeping busy and entertained remains the best way to keep the Coronavirus Blues at bay. From spending hours building a virtual life on the new Animal Crossing to getting lost in three books about plagues, there are countless options for at-home distractions. With many local restaurants keeping the lights on by staying open for pick up and delivery service (anyone try Alinea's take-home menu yet?), it's also possible to support the spots you love when you're out of options in your pantry. Several independent movie theaters in Chicago are getting creative about how to stay engaged with their loyal audiences even as the pandemic has forced them to close their doors. Chief among them is the historic Music Box Theatre; we'll get to their programming efforts in a moment, but this post must start like every good movie-going experience at the Music Box: with organ music. Kudos to the creative theater staffer who came up with the idea to post organist Dennis Scott's traditional pre-show performance to YouTube for all to enjoy. Queue it up now to play while you read the rest of this post, and queue it up before your next movie night. It's not exactly like walking into the big theater on Southport Avenue, but it's about as close as we can get these days. Where programming is concerned, Music Box Theatre and sister company Music Box Films (one is the venue where you see the movies, the other distributes them to cinemas, streaming platforms and more) have a handful of ways to watch new and interesting films while ensuring some of your "ticket" purchase goes back to support the businesses making them available. The dystopian Brazilian drama Bacurau (read our three-star review) is now streaming via Kino Marquee, and when you use this link to stream the film, the theater will get 50% of the purchase price. Word on the street there's more like this to come from Music Box Theatre, so keep an eye out. Meanwhile, Music Box Direct is the brand's version of a streaming service, offering their catalogue up on platforms you're already using, including AppleTV, Roku and Amazon FireTV. Support both the theater and Music Box Films by getting a membership to the theater that includes a free month of Music Box Direct. And don't worry, the membership won't go into effect until we can get back to the movie theater. Corpus Christi Image courtesy of Film Movement Downtown's Gene Siskel Film Center has put together their own solution to movies-while-social-distancing, the program with the somewhat clunky name "Film Center From Your Sofa." By working with a variety of studios anxious to get their films in front of audiences, the Siskel has essentially solved for theatrical releases, just online. Films like the Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi (read our review) and the indie phenom Fantastic Fungi stream for limited windows just like when they're in theaters—miss them during their streaming windows and they're gone. Well, at least gone from your chance to support the Siskel with your purchase. Like the Music Box, the Siskel offers memberships that will go a long way to support the theater during this downtime. With restaurant Carbon Arc attached to it, the recently rehabbed Davis Theater in Lincoln Square has a unique solution to movies at home: they're making streaming recommendations on services like Hulu or Netflix and offering special menu selections to go with the film. This week, they're recommending 2001's Cabin in the Woods (on Hulu) with a meal package that includes a large pizza, a large popcorn and two fountain drinks; family movie night recommendations feature a larger meal deal that's enough to feed a small army. Follow the Davis on Facebook for their latest offerings; the updates don't appear to be listed on their website. Though they don't appear to be doing any online programming while they're close, the Logan Theatre—like all of the institutions included here—recommend purchasing gift cards during their closure to show your support. However temporary it may be, our current shelter-in-place circumstances are undeniably the "new normal" for the foreseeable future, meaning we're all going to need a lot more to do while we stay inside. If you want to be a part of ensuring some of our favorite local cinemas can return to business as usual once all of this is over, consider doing what you can to support them from home while you can.

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Lisa Trifone