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The Influence

Russ Collins has headed up the annual conference of art house owners, Art House Convergence, for six years now.  As theaters across the country have faced the threat of closing their doors, especially as they begin to move to digital projection and face mounting operational costs, the Convergence has been a vital place for people to exchange ideas on how to stay alive and thrive.  He's also the CEO of one of the nation's most prestigious movie venues, Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater.

Collins sees historical resonances in his industry's own fight to stay alive and encourage arts patronage in organizations like the Association for the Performing Arts.  But the organization has crucial questions that it must face in its infancy. "How big is the movement of community-based mission-based cinemas going to be?" he asked rhetorically.  "How do you define all that kind of stuff?  It’s even harder for art houses."

But bringing movies to people is clearly a passion for Collins.  "Coming together for movies in a social context happens because we’re social creatures," he said. "It’s a profound psychological experience, and just like there's a different impact listening to a musician in real life, so it is with film."

Biggest Success

The Art House conference ballooned to 350 attendees in its past year, its sixth; 25 people showed up in its first run.

Biggest Disappointment

Seeing the constant threat that independent theaters face. "When I was coming of age in the '70s, the notion that a theater company needed subsidy seemed odd because you weren't connecting to your audiences.  Art houses need subsidies in order to run, and that’s okay."

Biggest Challenge

Collins identified the nation's public schools' lack of support for film appreciation and other art courses as the biggest challenge he currently faces. 

What's Next

Collins is staying busy with the Michigan Theater's regional festival, Cinetopia. Meanwhile, the Convergence continues its growth. "We hope we can keep spreading the word and encourage people throughout North America to form art house theaters nationwide," he said. 

The Survey
My Biggest Career Break...
At 26, I was hired to manage and direct a broken-down old 1920s-era movie palace in Ann Arbor ‐‐ the Michigan Theater. This one job provided me the opportunity to raise millions, restore a historic building, vitalize an urban neighborhood, start a regional film festival and create a national conference.
Best Filmmaker Working Today...
The Coen brothers: they are quirky; they are arthouse; they are mainstream; they are from the Midwest. But this is an unfair question because there truly are so many wonderful filmmakers working today.
A Guilty Pleasure Movie...
James Bond flicks. From "Mad Men"- era Sean Connery classics, through creaky Roger Moore opuses ‐‐ if Bond flickers on the screen, I am drawn to watching him.
My First Job...
Stock room clerk at an old-fashioned local department store called Goodyears, in Ann Arbor, MI
The age that Russ got his first job
Attended this year by Russ
The average amount that Russ travels for work each year
Russ has been to the Sundance Film Festival