Essential Exhibition Image

Essential Exhibition

By Ben Shehadi | March 15, 2024

 Directed by the seasoned filmmaker Derek A. Diercksmeier, Essential Exhibition delves into the unprecedented challenges faced by the movie industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The title itself is a poignant reference to the closure of non-essential businesses during the COVID lockdowns. In March 2020, as the world came to a standstill, theaters closed indefinitely amidst the growing uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus. Under the lockdown rules, theaters were only allowed to operate at limited capacity and enforce strict social distancing measures. However, the reality was harsher: moviegoers were scarce during the peak of the pandemic.

Amid this unrest, the studios were reluctant to produce any new movies. This indirectly harmed the theaters, too. Adjusting to the crisis, many cinemas began to alter their services. They offered curbside popcorn and played retro features instead of new releases. Drive-ins enjoyed a brief resurgence. Despite all this, business did not pick up again until the fall of 2020, when lockdown fatigue forced many restless people to escape the soul-crushing confines of the house.

“…explores the many permanent effects of the worldwide crisis on the movie-making world.”

Essential Exhibition explores the many permanent effects of the worldwide crisis on the movie-making world. In the post-COVID world, streaming has brought old-fashioned theaters to the brink of extinction. We’ve lost the communal touch of the theater experience. Everybody’s still isolated and avoiding each other, even after the threat of the virus has diminished.Diercksmeier conducts lots of interviews with movie-adjacent personnel. Indie directors and theater staff give their insights into the industry’s precarious future. “If you love movie theaters, it’s up to you to support them,” the narrator concludes. “Your dollar is the only thing that can truly save the theaters.”

The interviews convey the urgency of the narrative. There’s a desperation to reconnect with others and build a community. The director maintains the tone and gives the subject the appropriate weight and seriousness. Unfortunately, some technical issues do prevent this from being perfect. The editing is choppy at times, and the sound design is a mess. The volume goes in and out often enough to be distracting. Still, the message is loud and clear, and it is crucial that we all take it to heart.

On the whole, Essential Exhibition is a top-notch documentary. Its timely topic about the collapse of theaters (and the entire community) is a very necessary conversation in today’s America. The editing leaves much to be desired, and the volume fluctuations are incredibly irritating. But overall, I strongly recommend this as it is an enjoyable and valuable watching experience.

Essential Exhibition (2023)

Directed and Written: Derek A. Diercksmeier

Starring: Sean Porter, Nathan Barr, Jordan Wayne Long, Nigel Bluck, Dina Paulson, Sharon Bajer, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

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