No discussion of the film industry is complete without talking to an exhibitor. As a filmmaker, it's imperative to get a viewpoint from the first place that a customer might be putting forth hard cash to see your film! Peggy Johnson, Executive Director of the nonprofit Loft Cinema, a mission-driven, independent art house in Tucson, AZ offered me some thoughts on exhibition.
What brought you to Cannes?
We started going to Cannes in 2008, adding it to the three or four other festivals we attend annually. We go to Cannes to look for new films, to see what the new trends are, to check out what is going on in other countries, and to generally revel in the incredible diversity and quality of films in competition and in all the other concurrent competitions and the parallel programs.
How did you get started with the theater? What inspired you to get into exhibition?
My incentive to get into exhibition was the fact that the beloved art house in Tucson, The Loft Cinema, was put on the market and was facing demolition. A small group of us formed a nonprofit and managed to purchase the theatre on its 30th anniversary, and now we are about to celebrate 40 years. There were two major incentives: one, of course was the films, and the other was the fact that, without The Loft, we felt that Tucson would not be the same city we had chosen to live in back in 1975. We couldn’t imagine living in a city with only corporate chains offering standard Hollywood movies. We had grown to rely on The Loft and its wonderful, alternative films.
How's it going? What are you working on now?
It’s going great. We will celebrate The Loft’s 40th anniversary in November, which will also be the 10th anniversary of our purchase of the theatre. The community has embraced The Loft and the diverse and inclusive programming we offer – from foreign and US independent feature films and documentaries and classics, to filmmaker guests, special events and community collaborations.
We are in a capital campaign at the moment, raising funds to add a third screen, renovate and update the existing facility, and add a larger lobby and more parking. The Loft will be green, a model of accessibility with state of the art digital projection and sound (we will continue our commitment to 35mm).
How have you managed to succeed in this tough sector?
I believe The Loft’s success is due to three major factors:
First, the creative staff at The Loft, our “brain trust”, comes up with an amazing, eclectic blend of programming every single week. Second, I believe the quality of specialty films is better than ever, with new exciting talent emerging every year. And third, the Tucson community loves our programming, including everyone from students, the 25-45 demographic, to children and senior citizens. We are constantly reaching new audiences, expanding our reach with new and innovative programming.
Do you feel as if there's a change in public opinion starting to drive people back to local independent theaters, similar to the "buy local" concept?
Yes, definitely. I think people are increasingly aware of the importance of buying local, and everyone recognizes The Loft as a grass-roots, locally-owned independent cinema. When you’re in The Loft, you know you’re in Tucson because it reflects the personality of the community. When you’re in the multiplex you could be anywhere as they all look exactly alike.
But even more important than the fact that we’re local is the quality of the programming, which is a refreshing alternative to the Hollywood product showing at the multi-plexes.
Any advice or anecdotes for filmmakers?
Keep taking chances, keep making bold choices and cinemas like The Loft will work hard to build an audience for your films. We honor the work of filmmakers who are not focus-grouping the edges off their films, and our patrons appreciate the opportunity to experience films that are not afraid to make them think.
Next up . . .The Festival
Written by Zack Coffman. Follow Zack's film marketing tips and adventures @choppertown on Twitter.