There’s been a great deal of discussion lately about streaming video and movie by mail services. It’s all happened in the wake of Netflix announcing that they’d be raising their prices. In doing so, they’re now charging people nearly twice as much for the exact same service. None of this would be that big of a deal to me except Netflix has gradually been diminishing their product for a few years now. They axed their wonderful “Friends” feature. They axed the “Lists” feature. They killed similarity scores on reviews, rendering them completely meaningless. These were all features that I enjoyed a great deal, and they’re gone now. Making me pay more for less product is rubbing salt in the wound. Having said all of that, I’ve started pondering my other options. One option I’ve found- and have started to use- is Facets Multimedia.
I first discovered Facets about a year ago. My cinephile friend and co-worker had signed up and sang their praises for their incredibly diverse selection. Every so often, he would share these movies with me, particularly if he knew that they were rare or out of print. I’d always marvel at what was available and swore that I would give Facets a try one day.
“One day” came about a month ago. Before going further, I’m sure some of you are asking, “What is Facets?”. When you visit their website, you’re greeted with a de facto mission statement: Facets Multi-Media’s mission is to preserve, to present and to distribute independent, world and classic film, and to educate adults and children in the art and legacy of film.
If you click on the “More About Facets” page, you get this:
Facets Multi-Media, founded in 1975, is a non-profit, 501(C)3 organization, and a leading national media arts organization. Our mission is to preserve, present, distribute, and educate about film.
Facets serves audiences of over 300,000 each year. Substantive numbers participate at reduced or no cost, with targeted outreach by Facets to economically disadvantaged or underserved areas.
Facets Multi-Media is supported by earned revenue, memberships, contributions, and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other foundations, corporations and individuals.
Non-profit! Film preservation! Education! Distribution! What a marvelous breath of fresh air compared to Netflix. In other words, the people who operate Facets are the heroes of the film community. Important films that might otherwise die a slow death are made available to hundreds of thousands of people each year because of the work that they do.
On the day that I signed up, I was given a really neat gift- two weeks free of their three discs at a time plan. I instantly started populating my queue. Ultimately, their diverse options are what drew me to them in the first place. I was like a kid in a candy store. I could find loads of obscure films that I’d wanted to see for a very long time, but weren’t available on Netflix. Just to give a few examples, some day soon I will see François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black; Bo Widerberg’s Elvira Madigan; cult horror Basket Case 2; and Spirits of the Dead. There’s a giant batch of Czech New Wave films that they offer. None of these can be found on Netflix.
They’re also versatile. Formats go out the window (VHS, for instance) but their interest isn’t in giving you quick movies as easy as possible, like you were some schmuck in a McDonald’s drive thru. If, say, the cult sex romp Let My Puppets Come isn’t available anywhere on DVD (and certainly not Blu-Ray), Facets still offers it on VHS. I recently acquired a VHS player just so I could take advantage.
I think it’s important to note- lest I lead anyone astray- that this is NOT your run of the mill movie service. It’s not Amazon, Hulu, or (most of all) Netflix. They only have one hub based out of Chicago. They’re a non-profit. You won’t get the lightning fast turnaround times that you get from these other services. But it’s not about that, anyway. They do the best they can with the staff that they have, and they’ll offer you things that you can’t find anywhere else. More importantly, instead of lining Reed Hastings’ pockets, you’re helping to support a damned good cause. You’re helping an organization in their support of cinema. According to a recent newsletter, they’re working on expanding to streaming content soon, which will only enhance the experience.
There are also bonuses that come along with your subscription. Since I’m in St. Louis, they’re moot for me. But Chicago residents get free admissions to almost all of Facets’ screenings. There’s even a Facets Film School (with nighttime courses) at extraordinarily reasonable prices. If I lived in Chicago, I’d take advantage of those courses in a heartbeat.
I can’t exactly say whether or not Facets is right for you and your movie needs. To each their own and so forth. For me, they’re just what the doctor ordered. I’m genuinely proud to be giving this organization my money for the services that they provide.
If I’ve piqued your interest, you may find Facets at facets.org.