All the IRL Things We Miss: QuaranTV Keeps Baltimore Weird and Connected

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Streaming, man, it’s just so much work. All these options and that nagging feeling that all those options are not so much options as they are content calibrated to appeal to you. It sucks. We have gone through this already. The whole darn idea behind this movie column was “a low-key invective against streaming,” as I said in the first COVID-19-informed piece—a review of Bacurau (by the way, keep virtually supporting the Parkway). And this awful pandemic, propagated further by incompetents and billionaires and other champions of inequity has made streaming feel even worse. You’re so disconnected, stuck in the house watching some dumb thing on your own terms.

One end-run around streaming that has been really working for me—that is, making me feel less alone—has been pirate stations popping up using the streaming platform Twitch. They’re operating like a television channel, programmed and curated, driven more by enthusiasm and a desire to share than, well, making money (Cinephobe is a real popular one). Knowing that there’s a hand guiding what you’re watching online and others are watching at the same time and that none of you can hit pause and walk away and come back to it, when you trust that hand, is very comforting.

In Baltimore, QuaranTV, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week channel showing art movies, ‘90s Disney movies, found footage-like YouTube weirdness, advocacy news, and original, distinctly Baltimore DIY programming, has been one of those channels. The hands behind it are filmmakers Thomas Faison and Gillian Waldo. 

“We’ve been running 24/7 with no stops and very little repeating since March 17. The project is spearheaded by myself—Thomas Faison—and Gillian Waldo. We do the tech and finalize each day’s programming along with hosting a daily news/variety/housekeeping hour called primetime,” Faison said. “Kayla Drzewicki does all our design work and is a lead programmer alongside Ellie Mac. Isabella Pittman focuses on booking music. Lucas Cullen, Ruby Waldo, Ben Violette, and Miles Engel-Hawbecker all provide additional programming support or host daily shows. We’re all from or based in Baltimore.”

The project began when the Parkway, the Charles, and the Senator all closed down because of COVID-19, and with it, the ways people in Baltimore gather to watch things alone together.

“We also assumed that a number of shows we were playing or planning on attending were going to be cancelled. Lastly, we realized that we were all going to be unemployed or end up with a lot of time on our hands,” Faison said. “In an attempt to channel this new time and to provide a slight substitute for all the IRL things we’d miss, we started the channel.”

It has a, well, “vibe,” where disparate sorts of things align or run into one other without seeming too confusing or jarring. 

With set times for morning cartoons and kid stuff, lots of movies, live musical performances, and original programming such as Bad Advice for Good People with Lexie Mountain—Thursday’s night episode featured Ami Dang and the two discussed whether or not getting a bunny as a pet is a good idea or not—there’s a mixtape quality to QuaranTV. It has a, well, “vibe,” where disparate sorts of things—I hesitate to say that internet-y word “content”—align or run into one other without seeming too confusing or jarring. 

Morning programming the other day was particularly inspired: Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring and then episodes of Powerpuff Girls and Rocky & Bullwinkle. Turning on QuaranTV this week and getting wrapped up in a few moments of The Shining and seeing a few others were watching too at 2 a.m. was disconcerting but in a good way. A Zoom discussion about tenants’ rights in Maryland is a crucial news service, especially when NPR is running small-biz crybaby stories from the perspective of bougie coffee shop owners.

QuaranTV’s schedule is posted on Instagram, which if you missed anything ends up as a massive list of things to go find somewhere on your own: The short films of Charles and Ray Eames, Agnes Varda’s Black Panthers, the Safdie Brothers’ Heaven Knows What, a Windows95 tutorial hosted by Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, to name a few.

“In the spirit of public access, we wanted to provide a range of programming that varied between arthouse features and YouTube compilations and created a space for lots of different people to be involved and come up with their own shows,” Waldo said. 

Programming is figured out by everybody involved using a Google spreadsheet with different tabs for each of QuaranTV’s programmers, plus another for booking live acts and a main tab where everybody helps build the daily schedule. And, Faison and Waldo explained, having 24 hours to fill means they can be pretty generous with who gets a show—there’s a lot of time to fill. Send them an email and a coherent-ish pitch and you’ll likely get an opportunity. 

I think the most rewarding part of this project has been people reaching out to book and create shows and others reaching out to say that a program touched them in some way even if not many people watched it, like when we screened Night and Fog,” Waldo said. “The chat is also pretty lively in the evening, and I think to some people it feels like a throwback to old internet chat rooms and fosters a sense of community if only for a few hours.”

QuaranTV’s livestream approach, where people can watch something together at the same time is important, Faison explained.

“I love movie theaters partially for that same collective experience,” Faison said. “There’s obviously no shortage of accessible content on the internet, but a little guidance along with the knowledge that other people are there with you, can really enhance the experience.”

It sure is nice to feel connected.

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