Beware of being bought: That’s the message for small companies like the latest casualty New Yorker Films (and ThinkFilm, Wellspring and Shooting Gallery) when new media companies come in with fanfare, optimism, ambition, and seemingly endless capital, and plan to rescue an art-film mainstay. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. (For ThinkFilm, it was Capitol; for Wellspring, it was the Weinsteins; for Shooting Gallery, it was a lot of things, but it was also itemus. Watch your back, indieWIRE: Who’s to say SnagFilms will stay solvent forever?) This is the brutal crush of capitalism, my friends, and when it befalls a company that we all love and respect, it’s unfortunate and tragic, but it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The surprise is actually that New Yorker lasted as long as it did, given the ill-fated timeline that often takes place after a company has been bought. Madstone acquired New Yorker in 2002. In the annoucement in indieWIRE, the COO of Madstone, which no longer exists, said, “The independent film world is a complicated place to exist. We want to take the next step.” Ironic, in hindsight. But the fact is that a buy-out always appears to be the next step before disaster: I suspect L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune staffers would probably agree.
Of course, who’s to say New Yorker would have even made it to 2003 if Madstone didn’t come along? But I’m always leary of the grand ambitions of new entities, proclaiming how they’re going to revolutionize the business, hire great executives, and set out on a new path. Eventually, in a subsequent year or two, or three, they take everyone down with them.
The real question now — unanswered for the moment — is what will happen to New Yorker’s vast and incredible library of titles, featuring essential works by Fassbinder, Herzog, Ozu, Bertolucci, Godard, Bresson, Sembene, Oshima, Schlondorff, Fellini, Wajda, Kieslowski and many more? If it’s anything like what happened to Tartan’s library, recently acquired by Palisades Media Group, a company with little experience in the auteur sector, we should all be very, very worried.