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Art House vs. Multiplex Here and Abroad

Art House vs. Multiplex Here and Abroad

Of the many changes affecting movies and the film business these days is the crisis of theatrical exhibition for art houses.  To put it another way the crisis today is in the exhibition as well as in the distribution of quality independent films of all genres.  The problem is that the small theaters and small art house chains can no longer acquire the films they need to exhibit to stay in business.  Larger companies and richer theater chains have now put a lock on movie product that has any chance of “doing business” or being profitable.  

In two weeks, in the days prior to Sundance Film Festival opening its 2012 run, the Art House Convergence will convene for three days in Midway, Utah up the road from Park City, the Festival center, but not in it.  This is the fifth such gathering of concerned movie art house owners and their friends in the film trade.  On the table for discussion are the problems and common interests art house theaters all over North America.

We were reminded how prevalent these issues and problems are by what follows.

Below is an article from today’s L.A. Times about the seemingly similar problems facing a venerable central Paris (Champs d’Elysee area no less!!) art house cinema theater in business formore than 75 years.

The article in today’s Los Angeles Times by Devorah Lauter reporting from Paris concerns th

e owner of the 75 year old independent theater, the Balzac, Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky, who has closed its doors for a week over what the “owner calls an existential threat to his business: the showing of art films by major movie theater chains.”  December 21 to 28 are the busiest days of the year and yet he and his rival in the exhibition of independent art films, the  Lincoln has joined the protest.  “The major movie theaters have increasingly snatched the rights to screen the sort of artistic but popular films that have provided him his baguette et beurre until now.

A sign of explanation outside his gated cinema includes a quote from philosopher Albert Camus: ‘Everything which degrades culture shortens the path to servitude’.”..

As a result of the major chains’ encroachment on the art house territory, “the Balzac was left with ‘nothing to show’ during the week of Christmas, he said. This year the Balzac lost 13% of its customers, Schpoliansky said, and has fallen into debt. 

Schpoliansky said. ‘If you want the Champs-Elysees to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, then you need variety of commerce.’ Paris city officials, who help the Balzac make ends meet with an annual subsidy of 40,000 euros, seem to agree. Around the corner from the Balzac on the Champs-Elysees, the UGC Normandie, a chain movie theater, was packed with holiday crowds who had come to view two films the Balzac had coveted: Le Havre, by Aki Kaurismaki, and A Dangerous Method, by David Cronenberg. In a recent interview with the French weekly Le Point, distributors for Le Havre said the struggle for exclusive rights to show new movies was a complicated negotiating process, and that critically acclaimed art films needed more mass distribution. Roxane Arnold, director of distribution for Pyramide, said her company chose to distribute Le Havre through major chains because the Balzac and the Lincoln refused to share the right to show the same film with a neighboring, major theater. ‘It was impossible for us to give the Champs-Elysees copy [of the film] to one single movie theater,’ she said, adding that negotiations for projection rights can be ‘difficult power struggles’. Now Schpoliansky is considering sharing first showing rights in his neighborhood. He said he understood that it could be positive for directors to be sought after by major movie house chains, and he didn’t want a ‘monopoly’ on art films.”  — Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

John Toner points out that the real story of the French Balzac Cinema lies buried in the lead. Read paragraph 25: “Roxane Arnold, director of distribution for Pyramide, said her company chose to distribute Le Havre through major chains because the Balzac and the Lincoln refused to share the right to show the same film with a neighboring, major theater. OOPPS.”

From this ensues the following conversation of Art House Convergence participants:

“Wouldn’t we love to share and share alike?” — George Cooper

“No, I liked it when we could demand exclusives. Those days are sadly long gone…” — Dylan Skolnik Cinema Arts Centre 423 Park Avenue Huntington, NY 11743 Skype: dylan.skolnick

I think those days could be reinstated with the small jewels or with the current development of theaters having festivals. More on that in another blog! — Sydney

Greg Laemmle of the venerable Laemmle Theater chain in L.A. also founded about 75 years ago by his grandfather, the founder of Universal studios has closed the Sunset 5 theater and its multiple screens which in years past has shown exclusively arthouse independent cinema in the center of Los Angeles in West Hollywood on Sunset Blvd. and other theaters this year. It will be reopened by the more well endowed Sundance (Film Festival) Theater Chain L.A. Weekly’s article elaborates on the reasons and quotes well known publicist Fredell Pogodin and edgy gay filmmaker Greg Araki:

“It saddens me,” says longtime indie publicist Fredell Pogodin, who expects some valuable smaller films will remain homeless during the changeover. “Edgier American films, foreign-language films, gay films, documentaries — all of them could get lost.”

“I’m dumbstruck,” says filmmaker Gregg Araki, whose groundbreaking LGBT-themed films (Nowhere, Kaboom) had important runs at the theater. “It’s totally one of those end-of-an-era things. It’s like when Tower Records closed: ‘Things are changing that fast?’ ”

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