Jeanne and Steve Sigel (Credit: CT Examiner)

The Garde Arts Center Launches Virtual Screenings for Audiences in Southeast Connecticut

NEW LONDON — The giant screen of its movie house went dark mid-March, but the Garde Arts Center is now offering a virtual program that lets audiences screen specially curated films at home.

Steve Sigel, executive director of the Garde, said that the new Garde Virtual Cinema is an unusual arrangement benefiting both the venue screening the film and the studio that made the film.

“There are a number of studios that are partnering with movie theatres and art houses, who share the proceeds,” he said. “Magnolia Pictures contacted us. We’ve done screenings of their films in our theatre so we have an existing relationship with them.” 

Steve Sigel and Jeanne Sigel, director of development for the Garde, spoke by Zoom with CT Examiner on Thursday night.

Some of the selections include “Driveways” from Filmrise, starring Brian Denehy, “The Ghost of Peter Sellers” from Circle Collective and “Crescendo” from Menemsha Films. Several Magnolia Pictures include “The Whistlers,” “Once Were Brothers” and “Slay the Dragon.”

Other streaming films include “The Best of Catvideo Fest,” and “Saint Frances” from Oscilloscope, “The Booksellers” from Greenwich Entertainment and “Capital in the 21st Century” from Kino Lorber Films.

“We saw a lot of our colleagues around the country that are performing arts centers, or even historic theaters that are primarily film or show film the way it should be seen, and they were starting to do virtual screenings,” he explained.

The two said the idea came partly from the virtual screening program at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

“They are exclusively a movie theater. You’re looking at a movie theater that can’t show movies and we’ve gotten a lot of ideas from them,” he said. “We’re trying to be inspired by the best out there instead of clumsily trying to figure it all out by ourselves.”

On the Garde Virtual Cinema home page Steve Sigel stands beside the theater’s state-of-the-art projector “Gloria,” to explain to Garde audiences the new normal.

“Last time she was on was March 8. We had a full house and we showed ‘1917’ and that week we had 4,000 people at the Garde,” Sigel said on camera. “Gloria misses you. Well, we all miss you, but now is the time just to stay home, be safe. We’ll be back together soon, I’m sure. I don’t know when. In the meantime, we thought why don’t we keep picking these movies that we’ve been showing you all these years. Movies that you can see right in the safety of your own home. The Garde Virtual Cinema. It will help.” 

The ticket price ranges from $5 to $12 or “pay what you want.”

A future goal includes hosting discussions about the films with the audience. 

“We’re a theater that endeavors to bring people together in real time in one place to have conversations, and to have this medium of the internet be the only way we can peer out into the world, is certainly a challenge,” he said.  

But the theater, which was built in 1926 shortly before the Great Depression, has survived other crises and disasters — a number since the nonprofit was launched in 1985.

“There was 9/11 and the 2008 recession and before that the theater survived the Great Depression, World War Two and great suburban migration,” he said.  

Jeanne Sigel said that it was still a shock to have to close the theater in the face of current pandemic.  

“We went from a 4,000-patron weekend — it was amazing — and then five days later we went dark. And we had been showing films from the middle of January through not quite the middle of March,” she said. 

The Sigels said that the pandemic has presented challenges for staying connected to theatergoers, but has also opened up new opportunities for engagement.

“We can’t open our doors but we can stay in touch digitally,” said Steve “This could be longer term. We could build audiences this way, it’s part of our mission to do that. We can keep doing this after we reopen.”

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