Where Does "Cinema" Happen in the Age of Streaming?

The pandemic has intensified concerns that streaming poses a threat to the cinematic experience. Here's a video essay explaining why.

cinema in the age of streaming
Miramax Films

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the ongoing debate around notions of “cinema” in the age of streaming and particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The debate around “what streaming means for cinema” echos one of the longest-running narratives in the history of film. Namely: new inventions radically altering the way we watch movies. Sound-on-film did it. Color did it. Television did it. And now it’s streaming’s turn.

The back-and-forth around whether streaming is “good or bad” flares up regularly. And one of the loudest and most concrete arguments for the latter is that increased access poses a direct, financial threat to more traditional forms of exhibition. Namely: movie theaters.

There is a conversation to be had about whether streaming and movie theaters are even selling the same thing. But such discussions have become moot in the wake of COVID-19. No matter what side of the debate you come down on, we’re in a pandemic, and unless you are lucky enough to own a sizeable collection of physical media, streaming is all we’ve got. For the time being, how we watch movies is no longer a preference but a matter of public safety.

This doesn’t mean that the unease, for both cinemas and what they represent, has dampened. If anything the pandemic has clarified the understandable concern expressed by folks like Martin Scorsese, who fear that the excess and accessibility of capital-c Content is having a negative effect on both viewers and the medium itself. As the video essay below underlines, the pandemic has intensified the very real fear that the cinematic experience, as it has existed for the last century or so, is going extinct.

Watch “Cinema. by Philip Brubaker“:

Who made this?

Philip Brubaker is a nonfiction filmmaker and video essayist based in Gainesville, Florida. He has made a heck of a lot of video essays for folks like Fandor, Vague Visages, and MUBI. You can browse Brubaker’s video content on his Vimeo page. This essay was an official selection at FILMADRID 2020.

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(Senior contributor)

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