Kennedy: Cinema on-demand well received in Glens Falls

Charles R. Wood Theater sells out for documentary showing
Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande river, border of United States and Mexico, Texas, United States.
Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande river, border of United States and Mexico, Texas, United States.

The Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls played host last weekend to a new concept in movies – “cinema on demand” – and the response was so good, it will do the same again later this month.

The Wood became one of the early venues to show “The River and the Wall,” a documentary that won a key award in March at the annual South by Southwest movie/music/tech festival in Austin, Texas. The film debuted commercially in theaters May 3.

It follows the 2-and-a-half-month, 1,200-mile trek of five adventurers along the Rio Grande River in Texas – the path of President Donald Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico. One of the five is Glens Falls native Heather Mackey.

With stunning cinematography, the documentary looks at the potential consequences – political, ecological, cultural – of replacing current piecemeal border barriers with a contiguous wall.
The Wood nabbed its showing through Tugg Inc., an internet-based platform that allows viewers to request a film from its library – everything from classics and westerns to comedy and horror – to view at partner national chains like Regal Cinemas and AMC Entertainment. The company also works with community venues.

Forbes dubbed Tugg and a similar venture, Gathr, as pioneers of cinema-on-demand in this country.

Using crowdsourcing- and crowdfunding-like methods, the companies agree to get a film to a chosen venue once a minimum number of tickets is sold by a set deadline – which organizers do by talking it up to friends and neighbors through social media and other means (the crowdsourcing aspect). No purchaser is charged for a ticket until the minimum is met (as in crowdfunding), and not hitting the minimum means the film is canceled.

The Wood not only met its minimum on Tugg quickly, but also sold out the 300-seat theater in downtown Glens Falls on Saturday. This week, it met the minimum for the planned second showing on May 22. 

Emily Murphy, executive director of the Wood, credits the sell-out in part to an appearance by Mackey, a 2006 Glens Falls High School grad. Now a field biologist and ornithologist, Mackey watched the film with her family and answered audience questions afterward.

Murphy said she first learned of “The River and the Wall” from Mackey’s father, and then contacted Tugg about arranging a screening. She said she worried that people would be disappointed if the ticket threshold wasn’t met, but “I was blown away to see how quickly we were able to confirm the event.”

“While a lot of people came for Heather, a lot of people came for the movie,” Murphy said, citing ongoing debate over a border wall. But the film’s look at the wall’s possible impact on plants and animals offered “a very interesting perspective.”

“We thought it would be popular, but a sell-out wasn’t really on the table from the get-go,” she said.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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