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Art House Advocacy

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).

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

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

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.

 

A Letter to The Los Angeles Times

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As a coalition of mission-driven film exhibitors committed to using cinema to foster shared experiences and inspire collective action, we share the outrage voiced by Haifaa al-Mansour, Susanne Bier, Sara Colangelo, Nicole Holofcener, and Tamara Jenkins’ in The Los Angeles Times‘ August 30 piece “Five Female Directors, many stories: A conversation on filmmaking, Netflix and more” about the lack of funding and support for projects helmed by female-identifying and gender nonconforming filmmakers. To remain relevant and compelling the motion picture industry must dismantle its established power structures and support the careers and visions of filmmakers who have remained unrepresented and unheard for far too long. Change is imperative and long overdue.

However, in light of the roundtable’s diminishment of the importance of movie theaters, we must assert the vital part we have to play in advancing equity in the motion picture industry. Art House cinemas connect films to the public in ways that are substantive and offer tangible benefits. We teach media literacy, art appreciation, critical viewing practices, and we help audiences speak with each other — using films as the basis for conversations about race, gender, and policy. In a fragmented media landscape we remain committed to facilitating meaningful exchanges between people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Recently Art House cinemas have celebrated the trailblazing women who shaped the film industry, as the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA did with “Year of Women in Cinema,” women’s contributions to the labor movement, as the BAMcinématek in Brooklyn did with “Women at Work: Labor Activism,” devoted festivals to showcasing work by female and queer filmmakers, as Cinema Detroit does with “Shetown” and “Trans Stellar,” and reserved entire months for films directed by women, as FilmScene in Iowa City did with “Women’s March.” We have screened films by Agnès Varda,  Aurora Guerrero, Chloé Zhao, Ava DuVernay, Lucrecia Martel, and foregrounded the work of women activists, educators, and lawmakers in events to accompany documentaries like Whose Streets? and RBG.

Art House cinemas support women as leaders — we employ women executives, programmers, educators, and managers — yet there is still a long way to go.

Publicly accessible cinemas and shared experiences are essential tools in the fight for equity.  We invite inspiring filmmakers like Haifaa al-Mansour, Susanne Bier, Sara Colangelo, Nicole Holofcener, and Tamara Jenkins, and powerful corporations like Netflix, to work with us.

We want to screen your films. We want to include them in conversations, roundtables,  retrospectives, and series. We want to invite you to our theaters, and to continue to support and program the local and emerging filmmakers inspired by your achievements.

Sincerely,

Alison Kozberg
Managing Director
Art House Convergence

AHC Statement on Harassment in the Workplace

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The Art House Convergence, as the largest active group of those working in the Art House world, is an organization that believes in creating a community where the safety and comfort of our Art House colleagues is our key concern. There is no room in the Art House community for harassment of any kind. We believe in and are committed to preserving independent film exhibition as a place where everyone feels safe and welcome to participate in the shared experience of film.

Due to recent events in two theaters, it is vital that we restate our commitment to a harassment-free environment for our colleagues and communities and strongly condemn any organization or individual who engages in and/or allows this behavior.  It is intolerable.

The Art House community is founded on principles of transparency and trust. Without these in place, our colleagues and our theaters would not be able to create community-based, mission-driven programs for our audiences. It is the responsibility of each of us to engender a harassment-free environment that supports the behaviors and culture that are central to our mission. We support our colleagues, including those working at the two organizations in question, as they work to rebuild the trust in their communities.

Harassment is a pervasive issue and is not exclusive to any one industry. In order to combat it in our own community, we must address these insidious behaviors in a direct way.

In support of that, we will be engaging in plenary dialogues, town halls, and action-oriented meetings throughout the 2018 Art House Convergence, January 15-18, 2018. Our conversations will be ongoing, extending beyond our community and we will be continually reviewing and discussing how we can, as an organization, constructively address these issues and best move forward. This includes an ongoing review of our activities in our theaters and reviewing and reinforcing our policies. Our position on a harassment-free environment and these actions we are taking should signal to our theaters and communities the values we believe in and the kind of organization we are committed to be.

-The Art House Convergence Team