Small movies take over the big screen as blockbusters flee

Saint Judy is bold enough to be at a cinema near you

Like so many industries in 2020, cinemas were smashed by enforced closures due to COVID-19 restrictions.

After projectors were switched off during the first half of the year, every Australian state except Victoria has now allowed cinemas to re-open – with social distancing and limits on audience numbers.

Heritage Films is a faith-based distribution company based in Queensland. Marketing manager Angela King and her colleagues presumed a backlog of Hollywood blockbusters would flood in as soon as cinemas re-opened. Instead, they’ve been pleasantly stunned by another unexpected consequence of a pandemic.

“We are in a situation where blockbusters are still being pushed back and cinemas are open and scrambling for new content,” explains King. Apart from next week’s hotly anticipated release of Tenet – the latest from The Dark Knight and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan – most big-budget offerings for 2020 are in a holding pattern. Major film companies remain shy about sending big movies to cinemas worldwide which can only cater to smaller audience numbers.

“We are in a situation where blockbusters are still being pushed back and cinemas are open and scrambling for new content.” – Angela King, Heritage Films

In Australia alone, box office returns were down about 90 per cent in July (compared with the same time in 2019). Traditionally, July is one of the biggest month’s for the global box office as Hollywood blockbusters erupt for the American summer season.

But as King notes, some movie fans are still wanting a big-screen fix, meaning cinemas are scrambling for new content.

“People have gone back to cinemas and, apparently, the main demographic heading back are 45 years old and up. And that’s our main demographic … so cinemas have kind of lined up, asking us for stuff.”

Check your local cinema’s session times and you will spot more retrospective movies – you know, movies made before this year! – than usual, as well as niche or lower-key titles.

Heritage Films fit that latter segment, making for a nice fit with what cinemas are now calling for. Founded on Christian beliefs and principles, Heritage Films has previously released movies such as Freedom, The Heart of Man, Machine Gun Preacher and The Least of These. Its 2020 line-up is headlined by Saint Judy, which opened at cinemas today.

“This is much more a film that really sets your heart in a hope direction.” – Angela King

“It’s a true story and it’s super inspiring and hope-filled,” says King about Saint Judy, which stars Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone) as an US immigration lawyer who took on the system to change asylum laws, to protect vulnerable women.

“Exactly the kind of thing that is in our heart to bring to the nation in a time like this. Rather than releasing something slightly dark or challenging, this is much more a film that really sets your heart in a hope direction.”

Saint Judy was slated for a May release before COVID-19 hit. King confirms that all of Heritage’s release plans were derailed by COVID-19 but, like so many, they moved quickly to streaming options. Within just a few weeks earlier this year, Heritage shifted an entire film festival online – Hope at Home was a sprawling virtual festival of screenings, interviews and cinematic community.

Convinced God has brought them screen content “specifically for this season,” King believes that Heritage’s movies – on the big, and small, screens – can be of genuine help to our COVID-19 world.

“The heart of this company is to release content that brings hope – and I think God wants that,” chuckles Kings. “Because he loves to bring hope, you know.”

“God’s so clever in the way he moves things into place and times things perfectly. I think we see him doing that all time … and I think it’s because his heart is to bring hope to people.”

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