The Belcourt Theatre, like many of Nashville’s cultural institutions, has found itself navigating new territory in the age of the coronavirus. It faces the challenge of translating the physical experience of an independent movie theater to an accessible, online platform.
One solution: livestreaming.
On a Saturday in late March, fans of the Belcourt set up their laptops and televisions for an interactive online experience. On one screen was the classic ’90s film Space Jam, queued up on Netflix. On the other Twitch, a livestream and chat platform.
It was the theater’s first attempt at running a remote screening of a film for the Belcourt Midnights series. “It was so fun! Honestly it was the first time that I had like a real, actual social experience since being quarantined,” said Sarah Bandy. She was one of more than a hundred people who tuned into this virtual version of the series.
Belcourt Midnights typically feature cult-classic films like The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When the theater announced it was closing its doors on March 16, programming coordinator Zack Hall started thinking about how he could keep the series going.
“[I] started playing with the idea of how we could get the same audience interaction we enjoy with in-person screenings and translate that sort of into the new normal we’re living under right now,” Hall said.
Enter Twitch, Space Jam, and a pre-show packed with nostalgia.
Hall put together retro advertisements and music videos to get viewers ready for the movie. “It’s kind of all about that soundtrack for us kids who grew up in the 90’s,” Hall said.
The soundtrack includes “Fly Like an Eagle” by Seal and Hall’s personal favorite, “Pump Up the Jam,” by Technotronic.
Bandy said she was surprised at how similar it felt to being in the film house. “I think the joy is still there. And the feeling of camaraderie, like we all like this one weird thing together. That was not missing for me.”
“What was most surprising was the fact that the chatroom just did not stop the entire film,” Hall said. “It was just jokey and fun and joyful. And it was honestly just a complete release of a lot of the pent-up energy around all the seriousness that’s going on right now.”
In a time when many feel isolated and anxious, the film series offers a sense of community and levity. Hall said he’s trying to choose films that are accessible on streaming platforms like Netflix so people can easily watch simultaneously. This past Saturday, it was Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery on the Belcourt Midnights Twitch channel.
Bandy said she and her best friend watched Austin Powers nearly every Friday for a year when they were younger.
“I’m really excited because I called my best friend who lives far away and has a baby now,” Bandy said. “We’re going to watch it again like it’s our sixth grade sleepover.”