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Sofa Cinema: Milwaukee Film launches virtual movie portal for home theaters

Milwaukee Film is opening up a new channel to bring people together in film, even while the Oriental Theatre remains closed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Called Sofa Cinema, the local nonprofit launched its first virtual film portal on April 2 with support of Associated Bank. Through the Sofa Cinema page on Milwaukee Film’s website, film fans are able to access new independent film titles, with a portion of the rental proceeds supporting Milwaukee Film.

“Closing our cinema doesn’t mean closing off access to inspiring, intriguing and entertaining films,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and Artistic Director for Milwaukee Film. “Sofa Cinema is a way for us all to experience film together, even while we’re apart.”

Titles opening today at Sofa Cinema include “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” and “Saint Frances,” which was also a selection for the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival. Both films briefly played at the Oriental Theatre around the time of the cinema’s temporary shutdown in mid-March.

“One of our goals with Sofa Cinema is to curate excellent films, just like we do for the Oriental Theatre and the Milwaukee Film Festival,” said Jackson. “There are a lot of streaming platforms that offer thousands upon thousands of entertainment options, but during times of crisis, we know the last thing many people need is to make another decision in a day that’s full of difficult choices.”

On Friday, April 10, Milwaukee Film will open “Bacurau,” a Brazilian thriller that took home the 2019 Cannes Jury Prize. “Fantastic Fungi” remains available for rental or purchase, with 40% of proceeds benefiting Milwaukee Film.

Sofa Cinema is designed to emulate the arthouse cinema experience as closely as possible, but in a virtual space. Similar to how films are programmed at the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee Film will rotate in new titles regularly, with the goal of making one to two new films available every Friday.

Sofa Cinema films are available through innovative partnerships driven by independent film distributors, who have demonstrated their commitment to supporting arthouse cinemas through the COVID-19 crisis. Distributors such as Kino Lorber (“Bacurau”), Magnolia Pictures (“Once Were Brothers”), and Oscilloscope (“Saint Frances”) have made viewing films on virtual platforms accessible to wide audiences, while offering generous profit-sharing in supporting organizations such as Milwaukee Film.

“It’s been incredible to see the industry come together to make innovations like Sofa Cinema possible,” Jackson added. “This virtual cinema is certainly not a substitute for the experience of the Oriental Theatre, but I’m excited to see our Milwaukee Film community enjoy these amazing films.”

Following guidance from local, state, and national leaders, Milwaukee Film also announced that the Oriental Theatre would be closed until further notice. The nonprofit had previously announced an anticipated closure through April 9.

Film fans can view available movies and get additional info through the Milwaukee Film website at mkefilm.org/sofacinema.

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