Chicago Movie Theater Love in the Time of COVID-19

Woman watching movie on latop eating popcorn and laying in bed

No one would blame you for not checking in on your local independent movie theater lately, as Chicago moves into double-digit numbers of weeks of working to, in the words of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, #StayHomeSaveLives due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. But the time to check in is now, before you miss some truly special events.

For instance, Chicago’s own legendary Music Box Theatre now has Virtual Cinema with the Music Box, with an eclectic array of independent film titles available to watch online, at various prices, with newer films costing more. Most of the films are hosted by offsite online streaming distributors, with Music Box providing full instructions — and sometimes promo code discounts! — for access, along with a common email address for tech support, if needed, while receiving directly a percentage of the proceeds. It is the full moviegoing experience Music Box is offering here, with online ordering and curbside pickup of popcorn, candy, and even alcoholic beverages available — though that’s only on Fridays and Saturdays during set hours, sorry. New titles premiere every Friday, as usual.

Today (Thursday, May 21), is the last day you can purchase a viewing of RBG, the 2018 documentary of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. You would then have a month to start watching the film — and five days to finish watching it once you start — and the $5 purchase price includes a live Q&A with West and Cohen, taped this past Wednesday, May 20.


Coincidentally, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (IHMEC) has the Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg exhibit. Scheduled for February through August 2020 originally, now extended to January 3, 2021, the museum’s Twitter account  — — has offered photos and video clips of the exhibit during #StayHomeSaveLives, and just this week announced that a docent-guided virtual tour is available.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Illinois Holocaust Museum on Vimeo.

Upcoming Music Box events include tonight’s May 21, 2020 World Premiere Livestream with Filmmaker Q&A of CHICAGOLAND SHORTS VOL. 6 and this Memorial Day weekend’s four-day Celluloid Skylines: An At-Home Architectural Film Festival in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Center. Upcoming Virtual Cinema titles include Cher’s Burlesque (with Virtual Drink-A-Long!) and this Friday’s May 22, 2020 premiere of the 2014 Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself, with a livestream Q&A scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, with Chaz Ebert in conversation with director Steve James.


Chicago’s Facets Cinémathèque has its own Virtual Cinema Schedule, and a biweekly one at that. Notable among its own eclectic roster of independent films is the rarely seen, recently restored Cane River, available through May 28, 2020. Part of the proceeds go directly to Facets.


Kartemquin Films, which is part of the new Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), encourages you, as always, to support democracy through documentary, with its collection of titles that unflinchingly explore social, racial, and economic labor issues, in Chicago and beyond, at its Watch the thoroughly unique and original Kartemquin films individually — most individual titles available at $1.99 rental, $9.99 purchase, with newer films costing more — or subscribe to the entire Kartemquin catalog. Here is where you will find the sports documentaries The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Hoop Dreams, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, and In The Game, as well as the notable titles Inquiring Nuns, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Edith + Eddie, The Interrupters, and The Chicago Maternity Center Story.


Not to be outdone by its younger movie brethren, The Logan Theatre now not only has Stream at Home titles, it also has an impressive choice of combos for its Curbside Popcorn Packs — but only on Fridays, from 4-6 pm. Logan has also adapted its weekly movie trivia event into Virtual Movie Trivia on Tuesday nights.

The Gene Siskel Film Center has its virtual movie showings under the program banner Film Center from Your Sofa, and its accompanying livestream Q&A sessions with filmmakers called Screen to Screen. Most of the titles are scheduled to end May 28, including The Booksellers:


And it would be remiss of me to not mention the McHenry Outdoor Theater, the-little-drive-in-that-could-and-did open to paying customers in these COVID-19 times. This Memorial Day weekend marks its third week of operation, and it’s going strong with a Spielberg double feature that is sure to please, E.T. and Jaws (whose Mayor Vaughn character has picked up some unexpected new relevance in these COVID-19 times…).


At a time when we’re all very purposefully separated, these online movie showings can provide a sense of community virtually, first as movie lovers and then as theater supporters. It gives us a needed glimmer of hope that once COVID-19 is successfully medically managed, that the movie theaters will indeed still be there to welcome us back.

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Valerie Hawkins has the same last name as the editor only because they have the same mother and father. She tweets under the handle @RebelliousVal, but it's under @Valsadie that she has appeared in books (including "World According to Twitter") and embedded in online articles. She's currently updating and pondering new ways to get in good trouble...