Inside film critics’ fight for in-person screenings during COVID-19

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As audiences become less confident about returning to theaters, critics are pushing studios to make films digitally available to critics

Disney hosted a press screening of the latest Marvel movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Aside from the mask warrants required by Los Angeles County, the event was like any other pre-screening offered to critics and reporters for a new Hollywood film release.

But Disney’s decision not to offer critics the ability to view the tent pole digitally has been part of a growing wave of concern among critics about seeing films in person as cases of COVID- 19 have increased and the confidence of customers in the cinema has taken a hit in the past months. As the fall film festival season quickly approaches, the pandemic is forcing critics, publishers and studios to make tough decisions.

“I just feel like it’s a hell of a time to take a chance. So I removed virtually all in-person screenings temporarily, ”Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips told TheWrap, noting that he has an 11-year-old son who is not eligible for a COVID vaccine. “I’m just selfish, completely selfish, but in my opinion the studios haven’t changed their thinking enough or quickly enough.”

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Disney / Marvel)

Last year, the pandemic forced studios to replace their traditional screenings of critics in person with digital projection options, a trend that has largely continued this summer even as many theaters reopened. But now critics face a strange time when the availability of digital screens can change from movie to movie, even within studios.

Disney, for example, has made some of its best summer movies like “Black Widow” and “Jungle Cruise” available for digital screens alongside in-person screenings. Studio insiders said the reason the same option wasn’t available for “Shang-Chi” is because the movie hits theaters only without a premium paid streaming option on Disney +, and Disney wants critics to watch. the film in the same format as the audience.

But independent reviewer Keith Uhlich said major studios need to recognize that not all reviewers are able or willing to attend in-person screenings with the Delta variant, which is causing an increase in cases. “We can always do the things we want to do. We can always write about whatever art form we love, and I encourage that, but we also have to put it into perspective and adjust, ”he said.

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