It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. I’ve spent most of my time making movies, rather than watching them, as you can see here, and participating in online film festivals, Zoom sessions and the like with a community of like-minded filmmakers. For the most part, film festivals didn’t really get cancelled – they just moved online.

I think that interacting with others who make and love film – as in several group shows I participated in with VastLab in Los Angeles, The Exploding Cinema in London, The Liftoff Sessions in London, The Undercurrent Gallery in New York, and the outdoor large screen projection of my films by the Urban Screens Collective throughout Australia and New Zealand – has helped to keep me sane, as have long early morning walks in a nearby park, which is thankfully deserted, except for lots of indigenous wildlife.

But watching films online doesn’t really provide solace for me – too much has been lost in the transition to the small screen. Zoom and online festivals are all we can responsibly do right now, but they don’t make up for the absence of an audience, real-life human contact, and seeing a film on a large theatre screen, as it’s supposed to be shown.

As my friend Roy Ward Baker, the late British director once told me, with streaming or DVDs, you can inspect a film, but you can’t experience it. He had just come from a screening of his superb Titanic film, A Night to Remember (1958) at a retrospective of his work, and seeing it for the first time on a big screen after years of television viewings, he was stunned at the impact the film had – “I didn’t remember it being that good” he told me.

That said, the pandemic is real, especially in the United States where the government has completely bungled the response, and so wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and staying home are all essential strategies. There’s no way of telling when this lockdown will end, absent the successful creation of a widespread, effective vaccine, and so for the time being, we simply have to hunker down.

I’ve seen lots of superb films online, both old and new, as everything that was to be a theatrical release moves online, and I’ve also been dusting off my collection of some 10,000 DVDs, and watching two or three films a day. I also correspond on a daily basis with an old friend of mine who is a retired director in Hollywood, and we suggest titles to each other for home viewing.

I think my main takeaway is that, like it or not, this is the new normal. This isn’t going to end anytime soon, and online culture – in all aspects – will increasingly move to the centre of social discourse. We don’t have any control over the timeline for reopening “normal” society – we don’t make the timeline; the virus does. So for the moment, it’s streaming, Zoom, and online festivals.

About The Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the James Ryan Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and, with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, editor of the book series Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture for Rutgers University Press, which has to date published more than twenty volumes on various cultural topics. He is the author of more than thirty books on film history, theory, and criticism, as well as more than 100 articles in various academic journals. He is also an active experimental filmmaker, whose works are in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art. His recent video work is collected in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. He has also taught at The New School, Rutgers University, and the University of Amsterdam. His recent books include Synthetic Cinema: The 21st Century Movie Machine (2019), The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond (2017), Black & White Cinema: A Short History (2015); Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access (2013); Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood (2012); 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (2011, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster); and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (2009). Dixon’s second, expanded edition of his classic book A History of Horror (2010) was published in 2023. Dixon's book A Short History of Film (2008, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster) was reprinted six times through 2012. A second, revised edition was published in 2013; a third, revised edition was published in 2018; and a fourth revised edition with a great deal of new material will be published in early 2025. The book is a required text in universities throughout the world. As an experimental filmmaker, his works have been screened at The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Anthology Film Archives, Filmhuis Cavia (Amsterdam), Studio 44 (Stockholm), La lumière collective (Montréal), The BWA Katowice Museum (Poland), The Microscope Gallery, The National Film Theatre (UK), The Jewish Museum, The Millennium Film Workshop, The San Francisco Cinématheque, LA Filmforum (Los Angeles), The New Arts Lab, The Exploding Cinema (London), The Collective for Living Cinema, The Kitchen, The Filmmakers Cinématheque, Film Forum, The Amos Eno Gallery, Sla 307 Art Space, The Gallery of Modern Art, The Rice Museum, The Oberhausen Film Festival, Undercurrent, Experimental Response Cinema and other venues. In addition, Dixon’s films have been screened at numerous film festivals throughout the world, including presentations in London, New York, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Monterrey (Mexico), Urbino (Italy), Tehran (Iran), Naples (Italy), Athens (Greece), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rybinski (Russia), Palermo (Italy), Madrid (Spain), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Australia, Qatar, Amsterdam, Vienna, Moscow, Milan, Switzerland, Croatia, Stockholm (Sweden), Havana (Cuba) and elsewhere.

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