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
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).