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Film Festivals Go Virtual; Curb-Side Popcorn Keeps Theaters Alive

A woman wearing a red dress stands on a bike with two young boys. She's flexing her bicep.
Montana International Film Festival
The environMINT Film Festival will screen "Motherload" online on May 10, 2020, followed by a virtual question and answer session with the director.

Editor's note 05/07/2020: This story has been updated to reflect new reopening guidance from the Governor's office.

Movie theaters in Montana are still closed until May 15 under the state’s reopening plan. This has led film festival organizers and silver screen owners to get a bit creative.

The environMINT Film Festival was supposed to kick off this weekend, with an inaugural screening of “Motherload.” It’s a documentary by Liz Canning, exploring motherhood and climate change through the lens of the cargo bike revolution.

But with theaters closed until May 15 and social distancing guidelines still in effect, MINT Executive Director Brian Murnion says the festival is going virtual.

"Its our best solution for bringing us together while keeping us apart," Murnion says.

Viewers can screen "Motherload" from the comfort of their homes Sunday afternoon and partake in a virtual question and answer time with Canning, a Sundance winning filmmaker, hosted by Ed Gulick from Northern Plains Resource Council.

MINT and NPRC hope that next year this mini film festival will be seen on the big screen.

Showing films on a big screen is something Riley Cooke, owner of Amusement Park Drive-In had to fight for with state officials.

He unveiled his drive-in in Laurel on Apr. 27 when he got permission from Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton to open under phase one of Governor Steve Bullock’s guidelines. The next day he was told it was a mistake and ordered to shut down.

Cooke said no, he had permission and would stay open.

"I can’t stop," Cooke says. "I have contracts with Hollywood. Once I had permission to open I spent a lot of money with Coca-Cola to get supplies and get everything stocked up to open."

Two days later state officials reversed their decision and said the drive-in could stay open.

Cooke says his drive-in is 100 percent compliant on safety and sanitation guidelines thanks to his great staff.

JR Rasmusan with Valley Cinemas in Glasgow has, for the moment, traded the big screen for Wednesday and Saturday drive-through popcorn sales.

Rasmusan heard about the Circle Theater selling curbside popcorn and saw it as a way to make money for the shuttered theater and his out of work employees. The first day he started with two or three of his employees thinking it would not be too busy.

"The first night they come and I had to call in extra help because the cars were lined up back for almost three blocks," he says.

Rasmusan is still selling curbside popcorn and it’s still as popular as it was the first night.

Montanans can return to Rasmusan's movie theaters or attend film festivals on May 15 under guidelines limiting capacity, requiring social distancing and imposing thorough sanitation.

JR Rasmusan on Friday said Valley Cinemas in Glasgow will not be opening up May 15 because the theater has nothing to show. The movie studios and distributors have pulled most films from release until late summer or fall. Rasmusan said it’s possible the theater could re-open in July. In the meantime they are still selling popcorn.

Murnion with MINT Film Festival says he’s planning contingencies for his September event.
"We are planning on offering virtual screenings in addition to in person screenings at our theaters," Murnion says. "We are going to work closely with theaters to limit capacity and do everything we can to separate people."

He calls this quite the anomaly we are all experiencing.