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Neon to Release ‘Spaceship Earth’ Via Pop-Up Projections and Virtual Cinemas Amid Coronavirus

Matt Wolf’s documentary on Biosphere 2 will open through non-traditional release on May 8

Neon is taking a fresh approach to releasing a film during the coronavirus, planning to release its latest documentary “Spaceship Earth” through pop-up projections throughout cities that can be viewed safely by quarantined city dwellers.

The film will be released on May 8 via the projections and theatrically at select drive-ins, and it will also launch day-and-date on digital VOD on major distributors as well as other participating exhibitors. What’s more, other interested purveyors like bookstores, restaurants and nonprofit organizations will be sharing the film on their websites as a means of helping businesses affected by the coronavirus.

The experimental rollout is fitting, as Matt Wolf’s documentary that debuted at Sundance is based on the saga of the Biosphere 2 experiment from 1991. When eight “biospherians” went to live sealed inside, they faced ecological calamities and cult accusations. Their epic adventure is a cautionary tale about the forces that threaten our planet, and also an inspirational tribute to what a small creative group can achieve.

“Neon has never released a film without the benefit of theaters and Spaceship Earth is no exception to that rule,” Neon founder and CEO Tom Quinn said in a statement. “As every day becomes a harsh, almost surreal, new reality, it’s clear we must continue launching new films and entertain audiences as best we can. It’s also important we innovate and adapt to support the many businesses in need.  Even though Spaceship Earth won’t be playing in theaters across the country we hope by making it available ‘everywhere’ the film’s release can at least embody the communal spirit of cinema if not the big screen. We miss our partners in exhibition greatly and look forward to cinema’s triumphant return.”

Neon’s model is similar to what many independent and art house distributors have pioneered in recent weeks since theaters were shut down, offering revenue sharing releases for new films through what’s known as virtual cinemas. To stream the film, audiences access a link provided by a local theater, and exhibitor and distributor then split the proceeds. Partners will have the option to host private screenings and to co-host live, online Q&A’s and panels with the filmmakers, film subjects and special guests.

Neon though is taking the model to the next level by opening up the release to other businesses or organizations interested in participating. A partial list of some of the non-traditional partners already signed up include Atlas Obscura, Earth Day Network, Books are Magic, the Explorers Club, Posteritati, Fernbank Museum, NYC Trivia League, Talcott Mountain Science Center, Ground Support Cafe, Explorers Club, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, SITE Sante Fe, Synergetic Press, City Growers, Bud Werner Memorial Library, Santa Monica French bistro Pasjoli and Brooklyn’s famous eatery Locanda Vinii & Olie.

Other small businesses and organizations in the U.S. interested in partnering with Neon can learn more and sign-up here.

As for how the pop-up projections will work, Neon is partnered with just two locations so far and will release more logistic details later this week.

Neon’s Quinn said in a separate call with TheWrap that the idea behind the new release model was to construct a plan that could make sense even without anything tangible in the real world. “Spaceship Earth” debuted at Sundance and Quinn explained that the film was always meant to play theatrically. But the theatrical nature that makes the cinematic experience special was missing. This new model helps to bring back the power of the audience and in a small way embody the idea of connectivity.

“Spaceship Earth” is an Impact Partners, RadicalMedia and Stacey Reiss Production. Neon acquired worldwide rights to the film. Check out the first trailer for the film above.