I’ve not commented on the post about the demise of WELLSPRING as we currently know it (mainly, because the one and only response confused the fuck out of me) so I cannot point fingers, but if this doesn’t get people on this blog into some kind of discussion I’m not going to feel good about this place anymore. The announcement that WELLSPRING is saying bye-bye to theaters has put me in a state of semi-shock. Basically, Werner and Marie-Therese picked up the best stuff in the world and put it on screens for those of us who care to see it up there. Magnolia and the like have put in a great effort as well, but for me anyway, WELLSPRING was the place. NOTRE MUSIQUE, the Ming-Liang films and on and on. Denis. That’s what it was all about to them and for the more formative years of my cine-education in this city’s arthouses, that’s what it was all about to me. WELLSPRING was the dream – the company that bought the works that will define cinema and…you all know the rest.
Having said all of that, I consider myself more aware of the realities of the business than your average bloke, and I’m not completely surprised that the company kicked it (to a certain degree – I know they’re not gone altogether). The quote in the NYTimes piece is right on: “Foreign movies are generally regarded as more dependent on reviews and publicity than domestic ones, and Mark Urman, head of theatrical releasing for the art-house distributor ThinkFilm, blames the lack of media attention on dwindling audience interest. ‘Nobody’s writing about them, because nobody cares, and nobody cares because they don’t penetrate the culture,’ he said. ‘It’s a vicious cycle.’
I couldn’t agree more. Nobody cares. That’s basically the gist of it in my mind. It has always been the biggest issue with the arthouse community – fans and professionals alike have seemed trapped by this. So many films have come and gone, less than a blip on the cultural radar. My real interest in REVERSE SHOT was a belief that getting behind these films – in any way – was adding to the small campaign to get people to see them, to raise awareness (a phrase that seems fitting in this artfilm-as-endangered-species culture). Sometimes I fault the distribution companies for lackluster campaigns. WELLSPRING’s recent release of Denis’ THE INTRUDER seemed almost embarrassing. I am knee-deep in THE culture and I didn’t really know about it’s release. But ho-hum, I’m not privy to their strategy meetings or marketing budgets, so I’m hesitant to be too harsh here but more and more I feel like the strategies employed by the smaller distributors fall short. Yet I can’t shake the constant reminder that our culture will basically go see whatever it is told to see. “Nobody is writing about them because nobody cares and nobody cares because they don’t penetrate the culture.”
Who are these people and how do we make them care? Not cinema studies majors who are writing their thesis on Mekas. Not “hipsters” and “literati” and whateverthefuck you want to call those who attend retrospectives at Lincoln Center but Average Joe Blow. How do you get his ass in a seat for a great film? I know more than a few who say it’s impossible because Joe will just never “get” it, he’s not smart enough. I still haven’t bought that… I really haven’t. And I haven’t bought the campaigns on so many “arthouse” films – the add in the VOICE, the Lincoln Center screening, et al. I would love someone with a real marketing background to weigh in but my honest sense is that innovation in the realms of marketing isn’t exactly alive in the indie film world. In the companies that run the world, the entertainment industry and most industries on the globe, the marketing departments are as important as any. I suddenly feel like so many films have been short-changed here…is the arthouse and foreign film incapable of penetrating the culture? Is it going to be impossible to make people care? Is it that the community doesn’t care enough about our old friend Joe?
The only thing I am certain of is that I will not chalk up this kind of shut-down to The Man winning again. It is one of the faults of the “arthouse community” and so many who are passionate about the kind of films that WELLSPRING released that we balk at the sound of commerce, mass appeal, the Average Joe. He – or at least his friend who sneaks in a foreign film every once in a while at Blockbuster – may the one responsible for keeping places like WELLSPRING alive in years to come.