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'Phoenix, Oregon' theatrical debut can be streamed

Editor's note:Tinseltown in Medford, White City 6 and The Varsity and Ashland Street Cinemas in Ashland have been temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Go to mailtribune.com to see the latest list of postponements and cancellations.

The locally-produced independent movie “Phoenix, Oregon” couldn’t have made its theatrical premiere at a worse time, Friday, March 20, as the pandemic-driven imperative of social-distancing and home-quarantining becomes the norm across America.

COVID-19 is causing a “huge drop” in attendance at movie theaters everywhere, says film producer Annie Lundgren of Ashland, so she’s pioneered a novel way for viewers to digitally buy tickets from theaters — email her for the passcode — and watch it on personal screens, all for the normal price of one ticket at the theater.

In the face of the pandemic, Lundgren adds, many big studios are releasing their movies on the same day as streaming, but that takes revenues away from theaters. Some are postponing releases until the problem has faded — but, she adds, her company, Joma Films, wants to release it as scheduled and allow for theaters to get their usual cut.

Viewers get a one-time look at the film, with the passcode good for 48 hours. The system is more complex that Netflix or Amazon, she concedes, but it has the big plus that “we don’t want our viewers exposed to the risk” of being in public crowds.

“The film is playing at the Varsity. But I don’t want to tell people ‘go ahead and go to theaters.’ We want people to know there’s another option and the more people use it, the more support theaters will get.” (Editor’s note: The Varsity has since been temporarily closed.)

Joma Films has partnered with 17 theaters who have “come alongside us” to show the film “and we don’t want to hang them up to dry” by postponing it. The regular digital release of the film is slated for June, and that still will happen.

The pandemic is “a huge hit” to theaters across the country and “we expect the worst” when ticket sales numbers come out Monday, Lundgren said.

When you buy an online ticket at the theater’s website (catheatres.com), you will get a digital receipt, which you forward via email to home@phoenixoregonmovie.com. Lundgren will then email the link to show the movie starting Friday, March 20.

“Phoenix, Oregon” is a funny and bittersweet comedy about two friends, a graphic novelist and a chef, who seize an unlikely opportunity to reinvent their lives, quitting their service industry jobs to restore an old bowling alley and serve the “world’s greatest pizza,” says JOMA’s blurb. While it takes the title from Phoenix, Oregon, the film was primarily shot in Klamath Falls. It made its debut last year at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.

No one in the industry saw these events coming, Lundgren said.

“It was a crazy 48 hours setting this up. Things were changing so fast. On Wednesday (March 4), the theaters were saying things are great, but on Thursday, you wake up and realize something’s going to have to happen. Everyone in the country is having to make these kinds of decisions. We were so depressed. We didn’t get much sleep the last few days.

“One thing for sure, the human survival cycle is amazing. You have fear, panic, then sleep, wake up and take action. We’re gonna shake, not break. There’s worry about our families. Most of us have people over 70 in our lives. It’s a scary time, where you’re thinking about life and death. It’s very strange having that feeling of being connected to everyone in the entire world. The last time I felt that was 9/11.”

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland.

Jesse Borrego, left, and James LeGros appear in a scene from "Phoenix, Oregon." Photo courtesy of Joma Films.