Streaming TV could save independent cinema. Assuming purveyors decided to go directly to the platforms and outlets paid for exhibition.

The indie movie model is broken. You make a film, tour it to film festivals for years trying to build buzz so that a distributor will purchase the rights so they can exhibit it in cinemas to a tiny audience. Good luck getting your money back. Then again, a huge slice of independent films are not worth seeing at all, especially in today’s overburdened world where scarcity is history and more entertainment than you can ever consume is just a click away.

Every Friday, the “New York Times” publishes umpteen movie reviews. Sometimes I scan the ones labeled “Critic’s Pick,” but generally I ignore them. I’m not going to the cinema…as a matter of fact I stopped going to the cinema years ago. Nothing is so hot that I can’t wait for it. That’s a factor of age, but it’s also a factor of so much happening that nothing is gigantic and everything is ultimately at your fingertips as time passes on. But the problem with indie pictures is you make a mental note that you want to see them, and then you forget about them, because too much time goes by before they’re available on TV and there’s a firehose of product every week, overwhelming the consumer.

The key is to go day and date. Theatres and flat screen at the same time. So that marketing can truly work its effect and the public can embrace and talk about a film.

This happens all the time with streaming TV series. A buzz builds, and then everybody is watching, they want to find out what is going on. Happened with “Stranger Things.” Happened with “Tiger King.” Could have even happened with the new Woody Allen series, except HBO is dripping it out week by week, it thinks it’s building enticement, water cooler talk, but the truth is just the opposite, we live in an on demand world, we want it all and we want it now, and that’s not how word of mouth works anymore, the channel is too clogged, you’ve got to concentrate the buzz or else you’re overlooked, forgotten.

But not “Nomadland.”

To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about it. I just looked to see if the reviews were good or bad. I don’t need a recitation of the plot, shoot the critics who do that, they ruin the experience, which should be fresh and exciting, positively new.

Not that I cannot tell you what “Nomadland” is about…

Itinerant workers who live in vehicles. Some outsiders, choosing this life, others forced into it by work conditions. That’s right, you can just be going about your life and you can lose your job for no reason that you control. Your performance can be great, but the plant closed. Or the hedge fund which purchased the company loaded it up with debt, took dividends and then the enterprise went bankrupt. You lost your gig, they made millions. Another reason why I believe today’s America cannot sustain, why we’re inching towards an Arab Spring. The conflagration will be unforeseen in terms of exact date, but it will happen, income inequality is just too great, people are pissed, when they’re not working like dogs just to keep their heads above water. Hopefully, unlike in the Middle East, the end result won’t be strongmen/dictators, but the present economic model in the U.S. cannot hold.

So, what you see is Frances McDormand living in her van, going to work at the Amazon warehouse… Which looks just like the Amazon warehouse, I’m stunned the company let them film there, it’d be hard to replicate. And it’s not solely that the workers hate their jobs, they have a sense of camaraderie, they’re not lonely. And life is about working and conversation, laughs. You want to be so busy you don’t have time to think about your problems, because the alternative is anathema. If you’re broke all you’re thinking about is your next gig, which is elusive. And the truth is no one cares about you anyway, the American safety net is hobbled, and jobs are so specialized that they’re hard to get as you get older without specific skills. You’re forgotten, you’re waiting to die, if you don’t take your own life in the process.

And at the beginning the film is so bleak. It’s gonna be eighty degrees in L.A. next week, but the first twenty-odd years of my life I lived in four season world, and I don’t mean the hotel. You’ve never known loneliness until you’ve driven alone through the west on a winter’s day, gray, with few towns along the highway, the mountains in the distance, covered in snow, partially obscured by clouds. This is why California has such a big homeless problem. The homeless got smart, they went where the weather suited their clothes. And I’m not joking here, especially in an era where middle class people can become homeless in a matter of months, if not sooner.

And then it becomes about choices. One thing is for sure, you’re off the grid. It’s just you and the land. You can’t reintegrate even if you want to. You don’t have a computer to keep tabs on jobs. You probably live outside of cell range. So, you might as well check out the sights before you pass, probably from untreated medical problems.

These are the forgotten people. They’re trying their best, supporting each other, but the truth about homelessness is it’s very hard to climb out of, after a very short period of time, months, sometimes weeks, you become depressed, you lose the skills, clothes, attitude and money to get back into the mainstream and…

You live in your van.

Now “Nomadland” is not a typical movie, with the so-called three act structure, building towards a satisfying conclusion. It’s more of a slice of life. But in “Nomadland,” the stories are real. Literally vandwellers portray themselves. This is not a Hollywood fantasy, this is real life.

And Frances McDormand kills.

Reach forty in Hollywood, maybe a few years before, and you’re confronted with the choice…do you get plastic surgery to look young, or do you let yourself age naturally? Those who want to work tend to do the former, and they end up looking like zombies, of no determinate age, the laugh is on them, never mind that they’re never believable in roles. But Frances McDormand took the latter choice. And at first she looks plain and unattractive, but then she evidences this inner glow that draws you to her. This is what we really want in life. Forget about the celebrities jumping from beauty to beauty, getting married four times, they’re never really known and never really happy. Unless you wait until the honeymoon period is over, unless you struggle, knowing some aspects of the person will never change, unless you look inside yourself, at your own flaws, you never have a serious relationship, irrelevant of what the law says. And when you bond this way and it breaks up…it’s very painful. Fern married Bo and then he got sick and died. What do you do with that? You wonder if you did enough, if your choices were right, and the hole inside…it never seems to go away.

So in “Nomadland” very little plays out according to audience expectations, where we’re looking for that spark of romance and a happy ending, because that’s not how real life works. Yes, chance encounters change your course, but they don’t always yield friends and happiness. The goal is to keep on keepin’ on, unless you just get so burned out you want to close your eyes forever.

Life becomes very basic on the road. After all, you can only take so much stuff with you. You find out what is truly important. And, at the end of the day, it’s always about people and experiences, which are free to everyone, assuming you want to partake of them, as opposed to locking yourself into the rat race or being so afraid of your own shadow that you never go out of your house, you never risk.

So I don’t want to rate “Nomadland” on a scale of one to ten, never mind one to one hundred. It’s got excellent RottenTomatoes numbers, but that might skew your expectations.

“Nomadland” is a ride, with people that you probably have never encountered. But for most of us, we’re just a step away.

And at first you’re riveted but wincing. Then you’re wondering about the choices. And then you’re wondering about life itself. Do you compromise, what truly makes you rich, we all need money to survive, but once you can pay the bills then what do you want to do?

Now chances are you’re not going to go to the theatre, not in this Covid era, and the truth is “Nomadland” skews to an adult audience, not that youngsters won’t enjoy it and become edified, but oldsters are the ones taking precautions.

But through the magic of Covid positivity, the changes that have been wrought in the landscape that are actually beneficial, you don’t have to go to the theatre to see “Nomadland,” you can just pull it up on Hulu.

Maybe you don’t have Hulu. Is it worth it to sign up for one month? I’d say yes, because there are a few other must-sees on the channel, like “Prisoners of War” and “Normal People.” But the real reason you want to fire up Hulu and watch “Nomadland” is to belong, to be part of the discussion.

We’re all functioning on skew lines these days. There’s very little we interact on, very little we have in common, very little we can talk about. But with “Nomadland” just a click away on the flat screen, we can all pull it up “opening weekend” and converse about it amongst ourselves.

That’s one of the reasons I watched it. I wanted to get in on the mania. This was not a marshmallow test, I saw “Nomadland” reviewed in the papers and it built a desire to immediately watch it, when most people did, to be part of the excitement, to feel like I belonged, to feel like I’m part of this great patchwork of people living in the land we call America. There’s a lot to talk about here, a lot to unpack, and now we can all do it at the same time.

You’ll continue to hear buzz about “Nomadland.” You’d hear more if it was on Netflix, the streaming kahuna, or maybe even Disney+, but this film is the first dent in the movie universe this year. It’s an E-ticket ride, you will be touched, you might even be scared.

And it’s all true.

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