Art House Convergence

Now, the only way that is going to happen is to start gathering data to show how significant the collective box office of this segment of the marketplace can be. The data should compare per-screen averages across the business, and include apples-to-apples comparisons of the potential grossing power of a well-run art house vs. the local chain competition. Assembling this data will require a level of cooperation from distributors and exhibitors that might be beyond reach, but I believe we should put it on the agenda.

  • If you, the Art Houses are going to be willing to be more flexible about windowing and day and date releases, you deserve something in return. You have effectively become the research and development arm of the theatrical film business. As I alluded to last year, the quid pro quo should be more flexibility on the part of distributors on film rental splits, on split schedules and there ought to at least be a discussion about some kind of real participation in the downstream revenues that feed off of the theatrical showcases. I would advocate that a committee of this group sit down with distributors and explore that discussion.
  • I think we should be thinking internationally. There are institutions all over the world that are facing the same issues. New distribution mechanisms and marketing initiatives are stripping away geographic borders to the point where thinking domestically is narrow-minded. We could be sharing programming ideas, curating programs that can cross borders, and sharing resources such as digital files that can be shipped instantly to places thousands of miles away. I’m encouraged that we do have representatives here from several overseas organizations. This needs to be a global enterprise.
  • I think we need to take an active role in Film Preservation. If we don’t start acting on this soon, entire swaths of film history are going to begin to disappear. There is no current business model that will justify the continuing transfer of the deep catalog of film history from one unstable physical medium to another, let alone to finance a true restoration.

Until recently, Emerging Pictures had our offices in the DuArt Building in New York, and we watched with some horror as DuArt closed its film lab operations, and began to dump out all of the original negatives from their vaults. Now, mind you DuArt is working closely with MoMA, UCLA and the Academy to try and find homes for as much of the material as they can, but is this sustainable? In other countries, most notably in Europe, cinema history is being preserved by virtue of government support. Who will do it here?

We should join up with like-minded organizations which could include Sundance, but also IFP, Film Independent, the Academy and others and try to find a way to ensure that the next time someone wants to do a Preston Sturges retrospective on the big screen, there are more than the 3 most popular titles available. Back when I worked at U.A. Classics, we used to identify a small number of old catalog titles per year to transfer from nitrate stock to celluloid. We identified those titles by canvassing the repertory cinemas and getting commitments for bookings that helped to support the transfer. If one of the missions of this organization is preserve cinema as a theatrical experience, we have no choice but to get involved with this issue.

Finally, we should be actively lobbying the government to increase support for the arts in this country, and to make sure that they are aware of the fact that while Hollywood may represent a powerful business interest, film is a uniquely American art form (edit: I’ve been chastised for this comment since it doesn’t acknowledge the wealth of non-American contribution to cinema. Point taken.) that deserves support in order to preserve our cultural heritage. Other countries see this need, even in the face of a bad economic environment. If we are not making the case, who will?

So, OK. I’ve laid out a bunch of very ambitious, some would say ridiculous potential initiatives. I’m sure there many other great ideas out there. The real point is that this organization, the combined passion of all of you fiercely independent exhibitors, has the power to affect change.

In the book “Adventures of Ideas,” written in 1933, Alfred North Whitehead says “The motive of success is not enough. It produces a short-sighted world which destroys the sources of its own prosperity.” This might as well have been the motto of the film business through its history.

We (You) have the power to change that.

Thanks you for your time and for the pulpit. Now let’s go converge!