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Alison Kozberg

Countering Xenophobia as an Art House

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Art house cinemas have been the beneficiaries of foreign-language films for over seventy years. Racism and xenophobia threaten our core values and are irreconcilable with our priorities of culture and community.

At its inception, the art house movement provided a forum for empathy and understanding, exposing American audiences to perspectives and experiences from around the world.* On February 25, 1946, a subtitled print of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City (Roma, cittá aperta) debuted at the World Theatre in New York, initiating a record-breaking twenty-one month run that presaged the ascendance of a vibrant U.S. art film market anchored by the exhibition of foreign films. 

Rome Open City was applauded by critics around the world for its moving depiction of the struggle to resist fascism during the Nazi occupation of Rome. One of its most memorable and heartbreaking scenes is of a forced family separation — made all the more painful by its contemporary relevance. 

As exhibitors we have the privilege to share artworks of complexity, artistry, and empathy, and to amplify voices that are too often unheard in our communities. We have the opportunity to host conversations and cultivate common ground instead of cruel division. We have influence, and with that, responsibility.

We have a responsibility to denounce racist rhetoric and actions, to develop programming in solidarity with people when they are vulnerable, to provide a forum for a global community of filmmakers, and to reject efforts to cast hate-speech and discrimination as merely “racially-charged” or alternative points of view.

During recent weeks U.S. government officials have forcibly separated families and detained immigrants and refugees in unsanitary and unsafe facilities. They have used racist rhetoric to justify these actions and in attempts to silence dissent, sow hatred, and provoke violence.

We can respond to this by elevating our art houses as spaces of healing and collaboration. We have the opportunity to program films from around the world to celebrate the creativity and perspectives of filmmakers of diverse races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and nationalities.

I am inspired by art houses’ devotion to their communities and know that we will combat vitriol and discord with art, dialogue, and critical discourse bolstered by ethical clarity and conviction

Sincerely,
Alison Kozberg
Managing Director
Art House Convergence

* Though foreign-language films screened in the United States prior to World War II, the number of art house exhibitors, volume of foreign-language film exhibition, and the general public’s awareness of art cinemas increased substantially after the war. For histories of the post-war art house movement consult Tino Balio, The Foreign Film Renaissance on American Screens 1946 – 1973 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010) and Barbara Wilinsky, Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

Visiting Members Program: IFC Center to Colonial Theatre

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The Art House Convergence Visiting Members Program provides reciprocal membership benefits to members from all of its participating theaters. Are you a devoted art house member ready for adventure? Art House Convergence is providing travel tips and resources for film aficionados ready to visit some of the United States’ best art houses.

This summer head from IFC Center in New York City to Phoenixville, PA for the legendary Blobfest at the Colonial Theatre, and don’t forget to stop at the Princeton Garden Theatre in Princeton, NJ and the County Theater in Doylestown, PA on the way.

IFC Center, New York, NY

Located on 6th Avenue in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the IFC Center screens a combination of first run indie, international, and documentary films with such a vibrant line-up of special guests and filmmakers that it’s almost certain your visit will include something special. They are host to the annual DOC NYC festivalHuman Rights Watch Film Festival, and the monthly series Pure Nonfiction, making them an essential destination for documentary enthusiasts and anyone interested in cinema’s activist and educational applications. Other regular series include  Queer|Art|Film and Waverly Midnights. During your visit be sure to check out the Posteritati Gallery of classic movie posters.

Princeton Garden Theatre Princeton, NJ

A non-profit cinema located near the historic Princeton University. Opened as a movie theater in 1920, the Princeton Garden Theatre is operated by Renew Theaters and was named the best movie theater in New Jersey by NJ.com. Regularly screening a combination of first run and classic art house cinema, the Princeton Garden Theatre screens films for audiences of all ages including a monthly Kids! Series and a Garden classroom educational program for local schools. They are celebrating the summer of 2019 and 50th anniversary of the moon landing with the series New Frontiers but are always a destination for beloved classics, including films starring Princeton alum Jimmy Stewart.

County Theater Doylestown, PA

The beautiful streamline moderne County Theater opened in Doylestown in 1938. Since the 1990s the theater has been the site of significant restorations that have helped return it to stunning Art Deco splendor. When you visit check out the gorgeous marquee and neon tower. Today, the County Theater, which like the Princeton Garden is operated by Renew Theaters, brings new and classic films to its loyal membership.

Colonial Theatre Phoenixville, PA

The Colonial Theatre is nothing sort of legendary. Originally opened in 1902 for combination of film and vaudeville performances, the Colonial became a silver-screen star when it became the setting for the absolutely iconic theater scene in the 1950’s sci-fi classic The Blob starring Steve McQueen. Now operated as a non-profit, the community treasure presents a combination of new and classic films and curated series including a dedicated program of late night chills. Each year The Colonial is also host to Blobfest, an annual celebration of 50s kitsch and sci-fi that features screenings, a Friday Night Run Out, and a street fair.  Hosted annually in July, Blobfest is a must for cinephiles so hop on the highway after the 4th and begin your art house road trip.

On the Road…

En route from New York, NY to Phoenixville, PA stop for some pastries, and to see a castle.

McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co New York, NY

Located half a mile from IFC Center, McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co has been selling rare, fragrant coffee and tea in Manhattan since 1895 and moved into its current location in 1920. The historic neighborhood institution is crowded with jars and bags of coffee and tea of all varieties from around the world. Buy a new variety for yourself or a friend and enjoy a cozy drink with a book from the Strand Bookstore.

Strand Bookstore New York, NY

East of IFC Center, across Washington Square park is Strand Book Store home to over 18 miles of new, used, and rare books. They have staff picks, collectibles, and aisles aisles of books of all genres ready for browsing. Adjacent to NYU the neighborhood boasts a selection of other smaller bookstores too, including Alabaster Bookshop (the last of its kind on 4th Ave) which offers a wonderful library of trade paperbacks and classics and extremely affordable prices, and Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks.

The Stonewall Inn & Stonewall National Monument New York, NY

Just blocks away from the IFC Center sits the Stonewall Inn and Stonewall National Monument, a landmark in the history of the gay rights movement. In June 1969 it became a flash point for activism, as members of the LGTBQ community joined to protest persistent police harassment, violence, and discrimination. The protest sparked a revolution, and is celebrated each year in New York during Pride. Though many observe that the character and spirit of the Village (and much of Manhattan) have changed in the last 50 years, the Stonewall Inn remains an important site for historical reflection and contemporary activism.

Agricola Princeton, NJ

After driving south to NJ on I-95, head to farm-to-table restaurant Agricola, for a simple, yet carefully crafted meal showcasing local ingredients. They serve lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch and offer a full plant-based menu alongside farm-sourced entrees of fish and meat. In addition to a full, craft cocktail menu they also offer house made sodas. It’s a wonderful place to talk, take your time, and savor a meal — and has great options for vegans, but Renew Theaters Executive Director Chris Collier swears by their burger.

Terra Momo Bread Company Princeton, NJ

Looking for a sweet treat, breakfast, or lunch? Artisan bakeshop the Terra Momo Bread Company  has been serving house-made baked goods since 1998. Drawing on inspiration from Italy, Pan Latino, and the Mediterranean, they offer a daily selection of breads, focaccia (topped with cheese and tomatoes), croissant, sandwiches, and beautiful tarts. Traveling with young film lovers? Try their hedgehogs (bread shaped like the animal).

Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle Doylestown, NJ

If you head west towards Phoenixville on I-295 N you will pass through Doylestown and have the opportunity to stop at the Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle. Completed in 1912, Fonthill Castle was home to archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer and intended to showcase his collections of tiles and prints. Made entirely of poured concrete, the expansive mansion which Mercer described as “a castle for the new world,” combines Gothic, Byzantine, and Medieval styles. Mercer was also concerned about the displacement and obsolescence caused by the Industrial Revolution and accumulated a massive collection of objects from American life of the 18th and 19th century, which are now displayed in the Mercer Museum. Keep your eyes open for a whale boat, stagecoach, and tiny treasures like watchmaker’s gears.

Wharton Esherick Museum Malvern, PA

Just 5 miles south of the Colonial Theatre is the Wharton Esherick Museum. A leader of the studio furniture movement, Wharton Esherick was a sculptor who worked primarily in wood, creating furniture, interiors, and buildings. The museum is located Esherick’s home and studio. Visit for a guided tour to see truly exceptional designs in a beautiful setting.

A Letter to the New York Times

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To the Editor:

Re: Will The Movies Exist in 10 Years? (Arts & Leisure, Sunday June 23):

Kyle Buchanan’s article on the future of movies fails to include a single representative from the field of theatrical exhibition and rehearses the same eulogy for theaters delivered upon the arrival of television and home video. Consequently, the piece lacks meaningful insight into the fundamentally social aspects of movie-going and the benefits of shared experience.

The future of cinema is directly tied to theaters’ cultural and educational potential. A more thorough analysis of the state of movies might include Frederick Joseph’s #BlackPantherChallenge, the Crazy Rich Asians #GoldOpen, public screenings and special events at the Belcourt Theatre (Nashville, TN), the Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, NY), The Loft Cinema (Tucson, AZ), FilmScene (Iowa City, IA), and hundreds of other mission-driven theaters that foster an appreciation for the arts, encourage media literacy, and facilitate conversations about some of the most challenging subjects of our times.

At a time when the relationship between political polarization and solitary media viewing has never been more evident, we must raise the bar from asking “how movies can survive” to examining how and when they thrive. Over the past decade, movie theaters across the country have successfully embraced the principles of community-based and mission-driven programming, focusing on prioritizing audience experience, public dialogue, and positive cultural impact.

 A failure to account for how theaters are evolving from businesses into principled cultural institutions risks devaluing vital communal experiences at the precise moment when we need them most.

Sincerely,
Alison Kozberg
Managing Director
Art House Convergence

Around the Art House: Pride 2019

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In cities throughout the United States June is Pride, a month to celebrate LGTBQ experience, identity, self-determination, and community. The celebration also commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, protests against police harassment and violence that were foundational in the Gay Liberation movement. It is also occasion to celebrate LGTBQ filmmakers and filmgoers absolutely paramount contributions to the history of art cinema, from midnight movies, to audiences participation, to the resuscitation of old Hollywood legends as cult figures, much of the vibrancy of the art house community were conceived and nurtured by communities of queer film lovers. This June check out some of the art houses paying tribute to important queer filmmakers and cinema. 

Barbara Hammer: The Body in Film, The Wexner Center for the Arts
Columbus, OH


In addition to presenting the exhibition Barbara Hammer: In This Body, the Wexner Center for the Arts is hosting three programs of work by legendary experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer. The subject of retrospectives at MoMA and the Tate, and a Teddy Award Winner, Hammer was known for her innovative formal style, lyricism, and pioneering depictions of lesbian intimacy and identity, as well as her political conviction and activism. The programs Mortal Bodies, Sensual Bodies, and Political Bodies explore Hammer’s depictions of physical vulnerability, pleasure, and her efforts to “find the political,” and include her films Nitrate Kisses (1992), A Horse is Not a Metaphor (2009), and Multiple Orgasm (1977). A longtime friend of the Wexner, Hammer passed away earlier this year, during her illness she became a committed advocate for terminally ill people’s right to die.

Paris is Burning, Film Forum, New York, NY


Before Ryan Murphy’s Pose or KIKI there was Paris is Burning. Activist filmmaker Jennie Livingston filmed Paris, a depiction of the city’s underground ballroom scene, in New York in the late 1980s. Pioneered by LGTBQ Black and Latinx activists and artists, Ballroom created a community in which houses, functioning as families, competed in dance, drag, performance, and fashion categories. Ballroom offered, and continues to offer, a platform to innovate performance art, social critique, and a supportive network in the face of homophobia, poverty, and government failure. Livingston’s films captures key figures from the community including house mother Pepper LeBeija, drag queen Dorian Corey, and choreographer Willie Ninja, describing their approach to dance and performance, and highlighting the political potency of assuming the roles of executives and military officials for ball categories. The film continues to provoke important conversations about vouyerism, white filmmakers’ relationships to their subjects, and who profits from documentary, while remaining a moving encounter with inspiring activists and artists. This June the film returns to New York for screenings at Film Forum.

“Since Stonewall,” Trylon Cinema, Minneapolis, MN

The Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis celebrates the anniversary of Stonewall with “Since Stonewall,” a two-screening series featuring presentation of  The Boys in the Band (soon to be adapted again by Ryan Murphy), a 1970 film adaptation of the popular off-Broadway play considered one of mainstream film’s first depictions of gay life, and The Celluloid Closet, a seminal documentary about LGTBQ representation in Hollywood Cinema.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto, Ontario


TIFF Bell Lightbox presents a screening of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Bollywood’s first lesbian love story and a conversation about representation and inclusivity in Bollywood. Co-written by transgender activist and screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal, the film is the first to depict Lesbian relationships within the context of a mainstream Indian film (filmmakers including Deepa Metha have previously explored lesbian relationships in indie cinema). Panelists include film programmer Aaditya Aggarwal, and Indu Vashist, Executive Director of the South Asian Visual Arts Center.

Visiting Members Program: The Loft Cinema to The Frida Cinema

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The Art House Convergence Visiting Members Program provides reciprocal membership benefits to members from all of its participating theaters. Are you a devoted art house member ready for adventure? Art House Convergence is providing travel tips and resources for film aficionados ready to visit some of the United States’ best art houses.

We are kicking off our Visiting Members blog series with a Southwestern road trip from the Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ to the Frida Cinema in Santa, CA. Don’t forget to stop at the Palm Springs Cultural Center on the way.

The Loft Cinema, Tucson, AZ

Tucson’s independent movie theater since 1972. The Loft Cinema is a nonprofit dedicated to creating community by celebrating the art and diversity of film. They screen first-run independent and foreign films and host tons of special series including the campy Mondo Mondays (weird, wild, and wonderful), a running program of Essential Cinema (classics the way they were meant to be seen), family programs, cult classics, and plenty of outdoor screenings (past screenings have included a presentation of JAWS poolside).   They were the first U.S.-based member of the Solar World Cinema movement, and use solar energy to power their main building.

Palm Springs Cultural Center Palm Springs, CA

Formerly the Camelot Theatre at the Palm Springs Shopping Center, Palm Springs Cultural Center hosts a variety of art and food related events in the heart of gorgeous Palm Springs, CA. Film programs include tons of film festivals (Noir, CinemaSustainable), and LGTBQ programming, and members get discounts on concessions and festival passes.

Frida Cinema Santa Ana, CA

Located in downtown Santa Ana the Frida is the only non-profit art house in Orange County. They opened in 2014 and have since become an absolutely essential destination for film lovers. They are a cult movie and horror haven with huge audiences turning out for new releases like MANDY and TRAIN TO BUSAN, a Horror Movie Night hosted in collaboration with HorrorBuzz, the Camp Frida 12 hour horror marathon, and the Starship Frida intergalactic movie marathon.  They also get the whole team involved with the monthly “Volunteer of the Month Pick.”

On the Road…

En route from Tucson, AZ to Santa Ana, CA stop for ice cream, cocktails, and a hike through the desert.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Scottsdale, AZ

Heading north on I-10 from Tucson you will pass through Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ, stop into the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art  to see some rare gems including Knight Rise, one of light and space artist James Turrell’s completed Skyspaces, and rotating exhibitions of works by important contemporary artists.

Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor Scottsdale, AZ

Take a break from clean modern lines in the the candy-colored Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor an old-timey parlor decked out in bubble-gum pink. The Sugar Bowl has been serving up sweet treats since 1958 and their menu includes soda fountain classics alongside some truly tasty sundaes.

Joshua Tree, CA

After entering California along I-10 you will pass along the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park, an exquisite national park named for its scrubby Joshua Trees. See beautiful rock formations and desert vistas. Approaching from the freeway stop at the Cottonwood Visitor Center and choose a hike in the southern portion of the park.

Palm Springs, CA

After time outside head to the vacation destination of Palm Springs, CA to luxuriate in the midcentury modern oasis that has been a getaway for classic Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and Katherine Hepburn. Pick up a map for a self-guided architectural tour at the Aerial Tramway Station (designed by E. Stewart Williams) or enjoy one of the many guided midcentury modern tours offered around town. Enjoy a cocktail at Mini Bar at the opulent Parker Hotel, or a classic deli sandwich and mile-high slice of cake at Sherman’s (for those interested in a more contemporary take on the deli head to Wexler’s @ ARRIVE). Ready for another ice cream? Head to Lappert’s.

Cabazon Dinosaurs Cabazon, CA

Famous for their role in PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are a classic Jurassic roadside attraction for tourists visiting Palm Springs.

Mission Inn Hotel & Spa Riverside, CA

Located between Palm Springs and Orange Country, as you transition from I-10 to CA-91 Riverside is the hometown of California citrus and was once a vacation destination for wealthy east-coasters seeking rest and relaxation in the sunshine. Designed to intertwine fantasies of the west with European grandeur, the Mission Inn is an extravagant example of Californian-Mission Revival Architecture. Walk the expansive grounds and drop into the Presidential Lounge for a J.F.K Cosmopolitan or W.H. Taft Appletini (likely not the cocktail Taft ordered during his 1909 visit.)

Finished seeing Riverside? Hop on CA-91 and continue on to the Frida!

The Invisible Cinema at Anthology Film Archives.

Around the Art House: Experimental Film

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Did you know that Ann Arbor is home to longest-running experimental film festival in North America?
Since 1963 the Ann Arbor Film Festival has been hosting screenings with artists ranging from Yoko Ono and the Velvet Underground to more recent presentations of work by Akosua Adoma Owusu. This summer Art House Convergence is celebrating this history with an educational session dedicated to curating experimental films at our Regional Seminar.

So what is experimental film?
Like the designation “art film,” experimental film, and the oft-used associated designations of avant-garde and underground are regularly debated and contested, and have been parsed out in a variety of texts. Produced without traditional commercial imperatives and regularly rejecting standard narrative causality, experimental films are often micro-budget, small gauge, abstract, and irreverent. They might reference Hollywood, recycling its refuse into punk, queer, and subversive critique, but they definitely aren’t of Hollywood, and though money changes hands they definitely operate using a financial system distinct from the mainstream.

Read more in Allegories of Cinema (David James, 1989), An Introduction to American Underground Film (Sheldon Renan, 1967), Politics of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema 1941 – 1971 (Lauren Rabinowitz, 2003), Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1945 – 1980 (P. Adams Sitney, 1974).

Ready to watch some films?
Check out our list of some of the United States’ longest-running exhibitors of experimental film, then stop in for a screening.

Why were all of these organizations founded in the 1970s?
Like art houses during the mid-2000s, during the late 1960s experimental film exhibitors were contending with significant market disruption. Throughout the 1960s, while the Production Code exerted its last waning influence on commercial Hollywood cinema and the Supreme Court tentatively thawed government regulation of obscenity, exhibitors of experimental film often operated as (precariously) commercial enterprises — attracting viewers with the promise of transgressive, and titillating content, as well as politically radical art. However, in the 1970s in the face of the New Hollywood Cinema and the commercialization of pornography, the dominant model shifted. Exhibitors embraced and expressed their steadfast commitment to film as art and arts education, establishing themselves as media arts nonprofits, and seeking support from the (relatively) new NEA and other government initiatives like CETA.

Grounded in a commitment to cultural enrichment, and democratic arts access, these exhibitors forged a lasting model that thrives today. Pay them a visit for some truly eye-opening experiences.

Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY, since 1970


Founded by filmmakers Stan Brakhage, Peter Kubelka, and Jonas Mekas, a figure known for his role in founding a variety of influential institutions of the New York avant-garde including the Filmmaker’s Cooperative and
Film Culture magazine, along with patron Jerome Hill, and scholar P. Adams Sitney, whose widely-read Visionary Film is celebrated and critiqued for forging the most widely-read history of of avant-garde cinema. The organization launched with a manifesto and promised to exhibit “film as art,” asking “What are the essentials of the film experience? Which films embody the heights of the art of cinema?”

Confident in their capacities as arbiters of quality, Anthology’s founding curatorial board created a list of essential films they promised to screen many times, believing that the very best films warranted multiple viewings. Their list included some of the most frequently watched avant-garde films to date including Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema, as well as narrative features likes Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, and underground works including Robert Nelson’s parody Bleu Shut, which features a timer in the corner as a nod to anxiety about avant-garde film’s protracted run-times.

Essential films were to play in the “invisible cinema.” Described as “a machine for film viewing,” the invisible cinema was the antithesis of contemporary multiplex loungers and cinema-beds. In an era before rampant in-theater texting, filmmaker Peter Kubelka designed the cinema so that guests would sit on firm, hard-backed chairs flanked by partitions so that they would look at the screen and not each other.

Today Anthology is home to a tremendous archive including the world’s largest paper collection related to independent and experimental cinema and screens more than 900 programs annually, featuring films a global array of innovative retrospectives. 2019 programs included “Punk Lust: Raw Provocations,” “Prison Images: Incarceration and the Cinema,” and a tribute to founder Jonas Mekas, who passed away in 2018.

Los Angeles Filmforum, Los Angeles, CA, Since 1975

Founded by Terry Cannon in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena (home to the annual Rose Bowl) at a time when the former-turn of the century retreat for millionaires attracted artists with low rents and commercial vacancies. Pasadena Filmforum was a decidedly funky west-coast outpost for alternative film viewing where guests often sat on couches for relaxed, salon-style conversations.

Cannon was a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and had encountered experimental film programming in the Bay Area. Still in his early 20s, he received a seed money grant from the aptly-titled Pasadena Community Spirit Organization and set to work hosting visiting filmmakers and celebrating work by locally-based, unknown outsider artists like Sara Kathryn Arledge, whose 1958 film What is a Man, remains a sharp, hilarious critique of masculinity. Early series included “Women in Film,” “In Person: Shirley Clarke,” and “West Coast Funk.” In 1982 the organization launched “Show for the Eyes,” the first international mail art project.

Today Los Angeles Filmforum has been host to a variety of significant retrospectives and research projects on the history of experimental film including Scratching the Belly of the Beast: Cutting-Edge Media in Los Angeles, 1922 94,  Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles 1945 – 1980, and Ism, Ism Ism: Experimental Cinema in Latin America. The organization operates as a mobile cinema, working with the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and MOCA to host programs including “Representations of Leaving: Queer Death and heavens,” “Small, real: Observation and the Mundane,” and programs of films by Kevin Jerome Everson and Martha Colburn. 

Facets, Chicago, IL, since 1975

The marquee of Facets Cinematheque.

The marquee of Facets Cinematheque.


They were committed to the work, withstanding Chicago-winters with little heat, renovation, and micro-budget to forge an innovative program featuring an international array of films (a scope reflective of Stehlik’s own background as a Czech cinephile). The couple’s commitment to the art of film was clear and celebrated locals including film critic Roger Ebert, and national figures like Brian O’Doherty of the National Endowment of the Arts once said “
It is Milos and the few people in this country like him who are continuing to nourish the art film.”

In the 1980s, as the marketplace evolved, Facets adapted, forging a name for itself as a leading distributor and force in the home video market and  bringing works by filmmakers including James Broughton and Barbara Hammer to a broader audience.

Today Facets streams films from its website, operates a cinematheque year-round, boasts an enormous DVD library, is home to a youth education program, and presents the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Recent screenings include Black Mother and you can still catch the films of James Broughton, as well as an array of international avant-garde films on FacetsEdge

San Francisco Cinematheque, San Francisco, CA, since 1961

Cinemanews, the newsletter of Canyon Cinema.

Cinemanews, the newsletter of Canyon Cinema.


An offshoot of Canyon Cinema, a cooperative launched by filmmakers including Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand, as well Ernest Callenbach of Film Quarterly. Guided by an anarchic, alternative ethos,  the organization began as backyard screenings. A 1963 newsletter observed “Our theater began in the backyard of a beautiful lady in Canyon, California, summer, 1961. If there are new films there must be theaters, this was the reason for beginning.” By 1962 screenings were nomadic, occurring in homes, backyards, and even an anarchist restaurant.

Notable about the programming, was that Strand and Baillie acknowledged that some films would be bad. They wanted to explore new approaches to filmmaking, and recognized that required taking risks as artists and exhibitors. Recollections of their program at this time frame it as witchy and wonderful, fliers featured hand drawn flourishes, Chick would attend to the box office in a cloak with candles. It felt like a community and was genuinely funky, forging an ethos that have been credited as inspiring contemporary micro-cinemas.  In 1966 the filmmakers formed a distribution cooperative for “willing devotees of the magic lantern muse,” and invited all film artists to participate.

In 1976, with hopes of achieving non-profit status the Canyon Cinema’s distribution and exhibition arms separated. The distributor continued to operate cooperatively, while the distributor that would become the San Francisco Cinematheque became a non-profit and received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Canyon Cinema, which became a non-profit in 2012, remains one of the most important distributors of experimental cinema in the United States. Once an outsider, by the 1980s the Cinematheque was considered by locals to have become establishment and was subject to a revolution in the form of a “takeover” screening. The revolutionaries would go on to form No Nothing Cinema while the Cinematheque would form a programming committee with hopes of becoming more egalitarian.

Today the San Francisco Cinematheque operates as a mobile exhibitor, hosts the annual film festival Crossroads, featuring a combination of film and performance at SFMOMA, and presents a year-round screenings series featuring programs like “Imaging the Avant-Garde: Taiwan’s Experimental Films of the 1960s” and “The Shape of Surface.” In 2010, Steve Anker, who was director of the Cinematheque from 1992 until 2003 partnered with Steve Seid and Kathy Geritz of the Pacific Film Archive to co-edit Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 – 2000.

Walker Cinema, Minneapolis, MN, since 1973

In 1973 the Walker Art Center consolidated its experimental film exhibition by establishing a dedicated film department under stewardship of film coordinator John Hanhardt, who had been recruited from the Museum of Modern Art, and began a film study collection with plans to develop an archive. As an interdisciplinary arts center, the Walker integrated media into its galleries, built a collection, and hosted theatrical screenings. During the 1970s, curator Melinda Ward collaborated with Sally Dixon who was running the media arts center Film in the Cities (FITC) to bring filmmakers including Stan Brakhage and Robert Breer to the Twin Cities. Pioneering filmmaker Hollis Frampton, whose (nostalgia) and Zorns Lemma experimented with time and language, was among the program’s participants, recalling that on earlier trip to the Twin Cities he had narrowly evaded a plane crash by lingering at an Edward Weston exhibition of photographs.

Today the Walker Ruben/ Bentson Moving Image Collection features more than 1,000 titles, including works by Joan Jonas, Gunvor Nelson, and Derek Jarman, and selection plays regularly in an audience-programmed mini cinematheque on the museum’s ground floor. The Walker also commissions new moving image works and hosts curated screenings, recent programs include INDIgenesis: Indigenous Filmmakers Past and Present, combining narrative and experimental work, curated by Missy Whiteman and Film in the Cities: A History and Legacy.

Nikki_Trylon_1

Around the Art House: 35mm at the Trylon Cinema

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Screening films six nights a week, the formerly micro Trylon Cinema in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, MN opened in 2009 and expanded in 2017 to its current 90 seat capacity. They host classic and repertory series regularly with themes including Reaganland: 1980s Dystopia, Robert Bresson: Transcendence and Austerity and Majesty in Monochrome: Black and White Cinemascope. The Trylon also regularly goes on location to host screenings at the city’s historic Heights and Riverview theaters including the Minneapolis Hitchcock Festival. The 1926 Beaux Arts Heights Theater can project 35mm and 70mm and the Trylon regularly presents 35mm, believing that “35mm film has a warmth and feel that should be part of the moviegoing experience, just like the real butter on our popcorn.” Most nights you can find Cinema Manager and expert film handler Nikki Weispfenning behind the projector threading, winding, and ensuring the excellent presentation of prints ranging from archival gems to faded cult classics. Here, Managing Director Alison Kozberg asks Nikki questions about life in the booth.

Nikki, you are a 35mm projectionist. How did you learn to handle film?
I learned to project when I was living in New York. I worked box office and concessions at the Sunshine Cinema (which closed in 2018) — after a couple years they promoted me to shift manager, which involved projecting. At the time, every theater had at least one union projectionist. The Sunshine’s was Joe Lynch and he taught me how to thread projectors. I followed him around for a few shifts and I ran one film – this was in 2003. But then I moved to DC for a year and didn’t work in a theater again until I moved back to Minneapolis in 2007. A couple people I knew were helping to reopen the Parkway Theater, so I started there as a part-time projectionist. And once I was at the Parkway, I learned everything I didn’t know very quickly on the job. I started working at the Trylon in 2011.

Tell me a bit about the Trylon.
The Trylon Cinema is a 501c3 nonprofit. We only have three employees including me and John Moret our programmer, as well as amazing volunteers including our Executive Director. It is a one screen theater and one of my favorite places in the world. Our programming is almost entirely repertory, with the exception of Sound Unseen (usually music documentaries). We have presented films by the Shaw Brothers on 35mm, as well as series on Kobayashi, Cocteau, Ava Gardner, and Warren Oates.

Let’s talk about prints.
In the 35mm vs. digital debate, I almost always land in favor of film. Prints can be really memorable, just because of weird little things going on with them. Film can be more challenging and is definitely more work, but it is more fun! When something goes wrong with film I am much more likely to be able to fix the problem in a timely manner. When the film breaks, you fix it and are going again in 90 seconds! When a server loses power, you are down for at least 10 minutes and it is nerve-wracking.

I like pristine prints and I like grittier ones — they both have their place. We showed a print of Bergman’s Shame that was one of the best prints I have ever seen — just amazing. It was my first time watching that movie, and the print was so gorgeous that it definitely made me appreciate that movie more than if I had seen it under less ideal circumstances. But on the other hand, the print of Wild At Heart we showed last month is the same one we showed a couple years ago and it is a bit beat up  — which seems perfect for that movie… I love that movie, but it has a trashy vibe that is enhanced by a few scratches.

What kind of projectors does the Trylon have?
For 35mm we have two Century model SAs. We only run 2000 ft reels (some booths run from platters or from 6000 ft reels). Every 15-20 minutes a projectionist is threading, watching for cue marks, and making the changeover between the two projectors.

What is your favorite film that you have projected?
My favorite film to project is Hausu. We show it every year at the Trylon, last year we only had four screenings, but some years we’ve had as many as nine. I’ve only seen it twice, but I’ve projected it more than any other film.

The Trylon used to have a series in which programmers defended films that are generally hated, is there a film that you would like to defend?
My defenders pick would either be Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights or Gleaming the Cube.

You introduced me to a game in which one selects their favorite film for every year of their life. What are your favorite films from 1984, 1996, and 2002?
1984: Streets of Fire
1996: Irma Vep
2002: Esther Kahn

A Letter to Variety

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To the Editor: Re “Inside Indie Movie Theaters’ Battle to Survive” (Variety Feature)

Brent Lang and Matt Donnelly are right, thousands of screens in the United States are operated by independents. However, the depiction of these theaters as imperiled is incomplete and inaccurate.

Throughout the United States, independent cinemas that prioritize community engagement and ambitious programming are thriving. At Art House Convergence, a national association committed to advancing excellence in film exhibition, participation in our annual conference has increased from 27 in 2008 to over 700 in 2019, a reflection of the number of art house cinemas opening, expanding, and embracing the vitality of theatrical exhibition.

Joined by the guiding principle of “community-based, mission-driven,” these theaters, which number in the hundreds, aren’t merely trying to “out hustle the bigger circuits.” They are effectively strategizing financial growth and sustainability to support exemplary theatrical experiences, media education programs, and meaningful conversations — and their communities are growing. Since 2009, for instance, the Gateway Film Center (Columbus, OH) has doubled its attendance, while the Belcourt Theatre (Nashville, TN) has increased attendance by 55% over the past five years, and other theaters such as the Brattle Theatre (Cambridge, MA), and Pickford Film Center (Bellingham, WA) also report steady growth.

These organizations, including the Michigan Theater Foundation (Ann Arbor, MI), the parent organization of Art House Convergence and two historic theaters, are mature arts nonprofits. The Michigan Theater Foundation currently has a membership of over 7,000 individuals and since 2015 has raised $9 million dollars for a major renovation of its historic State Theatre. Likewise, Film Streams (Omaha, NE) recently completed a $9 million capital campaign to restore and renovate the historic Dundee Theater with outstanding results — in 2018 they enjoyed increased revenue, attendance, membership, and ensured that 30% of exhibited films were directed by women.

Art house theaters across the country are also expanding their programming to include robust media arts curricula. The Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, NY) has implemented education programs for over 150,000 students since 2001, while the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (Bryn Mawr, PA) educates 5,000 students each year, offering filmmaking and documentary courses as well as educational opportunities for elementary school students.

At the same time, in the face of our current social and political polarizations, independent theaters including the Nickelodeon Theatre (Columbia, SC), FilmScene (Iowa City, IA), and the Nightlight Cinema (Akron, OH) are giving audiences the opportunity to see films from countries including Palestine, Kenya, Lebanon, and Colombia. These screenings are indispensable invitations to encounter diverse perspectives while enlarging one’s understanding of the world, not just presentations of “obscure foreign language movies” as Variety describes. 

Art houses are successfully crafting community partnerships with other organizations, as the Doris Duke Theatre (Honolulu, HI) did with Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking on their “Women in Film” series, and collaborating with each other on programming initiatives like The Seventh Art Stand, championed by the Northwest Film Forum (Seattle, WA), and Science on Screen, which through a partnership between the Coolidge Corner Theatre (Brookline, MA) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has helped 82 cinemas host science related programs.

These vibrant theaters demonstrate that audiences everywhere appreciate collective viewing and the public square. Art houses are going to keep bringing people together, showing incredible films, and facilitating challenging conversations —  that’s far more than just keeping the lights on.

Alison Kozberg
Managing Director
Art House Convergence
Los Angeles, CA

Makenzie Peecook
Conference Manager
Art House Convergence
Ann Arbor, MI

AHC Conference Hosts Filmmakers Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera

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On the eve of the world premiere of their new film The Infiltrators in the NEXT section at the Sundance Film Festival, filmmakers Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera attended the 2019 Art House Convergence annual conference for a conversation about cinema, the U.S./Mexico border, and Latino-identity.

The Infiltrators, a formally inventive hybridization of narrative and documentary that combines footage of the real-life Dreamers who go undercover in detention facilities with dramatic reenactments of their efforts, received the NEXT Audience Award and NEXT Innovator Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

This conversation took place in the final days of a prolonged partial-shutdown of the U.S. federal government (the longest in the country’s history) spurred by a political stalemate over the construction of a border wall.

Collectively, Ibarra and Rivera have been making films about the border and its cultural, economic, and technological reverberations for over twenty years. They were founding members of the artist-run Latino distribution collective SubCine, and have participated in community based cinema programming through the ITVS community cinema program and Science on Screen respectively.

Information about booking The Infiltrators is forthcoming. However, their earlier documentary and narrative films about the production of the border as a place and idea are currently available for booking.

Las Marthas (Cristina Ibarra, 2013, 69 min.) Book this film.

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Unlike any other, the annual debutante ball in Laredo, Texas is part of a lucrative month-long festival honoring George Washington’s birthday. LAS MARTHAS follows two young women as they prepare for this elaborate rite of passage: Laurita, a 13th-generation debutante descended from Laredo’s original Spanish land grantees who questions debutante society’s class system geared toward girls like herself; and Rosario, a high-achieving, Mexican-raised and U.S.-schooled outsider struggling to understand the elite society’s unspoken rules.

Tracing the event’s origins back to 1898, the film works to unravel why a town like Laredo – with a population that is 98% Mexican – feels such affinity for America’s Founding Father. Despite history and all odds, the celebration perseveres and flourishes thanks to the Mexican American girls who wear this gilded tradition in the form of elaborate colonial gowns. LAS MARTHAS is a beautifully drawn and sometimes humorous, coming of age portrait of these two young women as they navigate this complex tradition in a time of economic uncertainty and political tension over immigration and border relations between the US and Mexico.

The Last Conquistador (Cristina Ibarra & John J. Valdez, 2008, 60 min.) Book this film.

Renowned sculptor John Houser has a dream: to build the world’s tallest bronze equestrian statue for the city of El Paso, Texas. He envisions a stunning monument to Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate that will honor the contributions Hispanic people made to building the American West. But as the project nears completion, troubles arise.

Native Americans are outraged — they remember Oñate as the man who brought genocide to their land and sold their children into slavery. As El Paso divides along lines of race and class in The Last Conquistador, the artist must face the moral implications of his work. A co-production of Independent Television Service (ITVS). A co-presentation of Latino Public Broadcasting, Native American Public Telecommunications and KERA Dallas/Fort Worth.

Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2008, 90 min.) Book this Film

Sleep Dealer is approved for Sloan Foundation-funded Science on Screen programs

SleepDealer

Sleep Dealer is a Sundance award-winning sci-fi thriller packed with stunning visuals and strong social and political themes.

Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña) is a young man in near-future Mexico. When his family is victim of a misguided drone attack he finds himself with no option but to head north, towards the U.S./Mexico border. But migrant workers cannot cross this new world border – it’s been sealed off. Instead, Memo ends up in a strange digital factory in Mexico where he connects his body to a robot in America.

Memo’s search for a better future leads him to love, loss, and a confrontation with a mysterious figure from his past.

The Los Angeles Times writes “Adventurous, ambitious and ingeniously futuristic, Sleep Dealer is a welcome surprise. It combines visually arresting science fiction done on a budget with a strong sense of social commentary in a way that few films attempt, let alone achieve.“

 

Department of Justice Reviews antitrust judgement, the Paramount Consent Decrees

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On August 2, 2018 the Department of Justice announced that it would review 1,300 legacy antitrust judgements including the Paramount Consent Decrees, a series of consent decrees that restricted certain behaviors by specific motion picture studios.

During this review the Department of Justice will determine if  the decrees should be terminated or modified The Department of Justice will review responses until October 4, 2018.

What are the Paramount Consent Decrees?

In 1938 the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit alleging that eight motion picture studios had conspired to control the motion picture industry. Following the trial the district court and Supreme Court found these studios guilty of a widespread conspiracy to illegally fix motion picture prices and monopolize film distribution and movie theatre markets. Following these rulings the defendants entered into the Paramount Consent Decrees, agreements with the Department of Justice that regulated specific behaviors related to motion picture distribution and exhibition.

Which studios are subject to the Paramount Consent Decrees?

The remaining studios that are subject to the Paramount Consent Decrees are MGM, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. as well as their subsidiaries.

What behaviors do the Paramount Consent Decrees restrict?

  1.  Vertical Integration of motion picture distribution and exhibition: The decrees separated film distribution and exhibition and divested five studios of their theaters, requiring them to receive special court permission to acquire theaters in the future.
  2. Block Booking: The decrees regulated the practice of bundling multiple films into a single license — licensing one film or group of films on the condition that an exhibitor would also license another feature or group of features. Studios could no longer force exhibitors to book their entire slate, instead the decrees gave exhibitors the right to reject 20% of feature films not previously trade shown.
  3. Circuit Dealing: Studios were required to license each film individually, theater by theater without discrimination in favor of specific theaters.
  4. Resale Price Maintenance/ Price Fixing: The decrees prohibited studios from setting minimum prices for movie theater admission.  
  5. Overbroad Clearances: The decrees prohibited studios from granting clearances (exclusive film licenses) between theaters that are not in substantial competition.

What other antitrust laws regulate the motion picture industry?

Since 1890 the Sherman Antitrust Act has made certain types of anticompetitive and monopolistic behaviors illegal.  The Act outlawed concentrations of power that restrained trade or inhibited interstate commerce.

Take Action: Protect Quality Film Exhibition

It is an important time to voice your support for the regulation of the monopolization of  the motion picture industry.

As mission-driven, community-based cinemas we purposefully program and exhibit motion pictures in service of the towns, cities, and regions where we are based. Our sustained commitment to community-service — to recognizing the needs, questions, and concerns of specific people and places — improves the quality of film exhibition, contributes to the economic wellbeing of the cities and towns where we are located, and increases consumer choice.

The regulation of anticompetitive behaviors in the motion picture industry is absolutely essential to preventing market consolidation, ensuring fair pricing, and protecting quality film exhibition. Allowing a small, powerful group of motion picture producers and distributors to own theaters risks making independent theaters dependent upon their competitors for content. While allowing large studios to set prices, control clearances, and bundle films into a single license hampers the ability of small business to innovate, collaborate with other small business (particularly small distributors), develop eclectic screening series, and initiate programs intended to invigorate their local economies — in short, it could give consolidated, large corporations excessive influence over programming, strategy, and pricing — allowing them to withhold content and obstruct efforts to work with multiple distributors/ suppliers.

While enforcement of many of the provisions of the Paramount Consent Decrees has eroded over time, with a variety of studios receiving special permission to enter into the film exhibition business in the 1980s, and disputes over licensing and clearances becoming the subject of multiple lawsuits over the course of the last decade, this does not mean that anti-monopolistic  regulation no longer serves a purpose in the motion picture industry. Instead, it is a moment to consider how enhanced regulations could ensure that small, independent exhibitors are able to continue innovating, working with multiple distributors, and providing consumers across America with access to quality film exhibition.

What You Can Do:

Tell the Department of Justice why antitrust legislation is important.

Remember the Department of Justice’s inquiry is focused on how the Paramount Decrees protect market competition and efficiency. Since much antitrust regulation focuses on protecting competition, focus your response on the ways that regulation can enhance and protect consumer choice, fair pricing, competition, and commerce.

Check out our glossary below.

The DOJ is accepting comments on the following questions until October 4, 2018.

  • Do the Paramount Decrees continue to serve important competitive purposes today? Why or why not?
  • Individually, or collectively, are the decree provisions relating to (1) movie distributors owning movie theatres; (2) block booking; (3) circuit dealing; (4) resale price maintenance; and (5) overbroad clearances necessary to protect competition? Are any of these provisions ineffective in protecting competition or inefficient? Do any of these provisions inhibit competition or cause anticompetitive effects?
  • What, if any, modifications to the Paramount Decrees would enhance competition and efficiency? What legal justifications would support such modifications, if any?
  • What effect, if any, would the termination of the Paramount Decrees have on the distribution and exhibition of motion pictures?
  • Have changes to the motion picture industry since the 1940s, including but not limited to, digital production and distribution, multiplex theatres, new distribution and movie viewing platforms render any of the Consent Decree provisions unnecessary?
  • Are existing antitrust laws, including, the precedent of United States v. Paramount, and its progeny, sufficient or insufficient to protect competition in the motion picture industry?

Organizations can submit their commits via email to atr.mep.information@usdoj.gov

Read more about the review here.

Glossary

  • Competitive/ Market Competition Conditions in which different companies or economic entities sell or provide similar products or services and rival for consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission “Aggressive competition among sellers in an open marketplace gives consumers — both individuals and businesses — the benefits of lower prices, higher quality products and services, more choices, and greater innovation.”
  • Monopoly When a company becomes the only provider of a good or service with no reasonable or tenable substitute.
  • Monopsony When a single entity becomes the only buyer for a good or service (imagine if all food suppliers sold to a single food retailer).
  • Price Fixing an agreement among competitors that raises, lowers, or stabilizes prices or competitive terms  (since the 1980s, regulation has primarily been concerned with raising consumer prices, less attention has been paid to when competitors lower prices)
  • Trust A group of businesses or companies tied together through contracts and cross-ownership.
  • Vertical Integration When a company controls multiple stages of the supply chain.  

Questions? Contact us.