PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 23.1 (2001) 33-47
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Open Circuits, Closed Markets: Festivals and Expositions of Film and Video
Daryl Chin and Larry Qualls
Festival des Films du Monde/24th World Film Festival, Montréal, August 25-September 4, 2000. The Shooting Gallery Series, Loews Cineplex, USA. New Directors/New Films, New York, March 24-April 9, 2000. New Festival, New York, June 1-11, 2000. New York Video Festival, July 14-23, 2000. Human Rights Watch Film Festival, New York, July 16-July 26, 2000. Asian-American International Film Festival, New York, July 21-30, 2000. Independent Feature Film Market, New York, September 15-22, 2000. 38th New York Film Festival, September 22-October 9, 2000. MIX: The New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival, November 15-19, 2000. New York Short Film/Video Expo, November 16-19, 2000.
Within the last year, the situation of film distribution has changed, perhaps not drastically, but with variation sufficient to denote significant reconfiguration. Just the most obvious example: The Shooting Gallery Series, in which a group of films, both foreign and independent domestic, found release in over 130 theatres throughout the country (all through the Loews Cineplex chain). The limited releases can prompt further theatre bookings if a film proves to be popular: the English thriller Croupier, directed by Mike Hodges, proved to be enormously successful, and, half a year after its initial American release as part of the first Shooting Gallery Series, remains in release throughout the country. And Jason Priestley's charming documentary Barenaked in America, about the Canadian rock group Bare Naked Ladies, has even been featured on the talk show circuit (though possibly more for the celebrity of its director than for its subjects). The Series has its antecedents, most notably in the Independent Film Circuit's Cutting Edge program, which lasted for about five years starting in 1987. Run by Wendy Liddell, The Cutting Edge brought films from Europe and Asia to American audiences, each series having six or seven films. But there was a problem: as a nonprofit entity, the Independent Film Circuit was dependent upon the nonprofit sector, the college media art centers/alternative spaces/museum media programs, for its exhibition sites. As the "culture wars" raged, and nonprofit funding for the arts--in the form of government support, foundation grants, and subsidies--diminished, many of the [End Page 33] nonprofit sites had to curtail, if not outright eliminate, their programming. And this left the Independent Film Circuit with a dwindling exhibition base.
But The Shooting Gallery has circumvented this problem by forging an alliance with a commercial theatre chain. Right now, theatre chains are finding problems with expansion: over the past five years, many chains have built state-of-the-art, generally freestanding multiplexes, only to be left with their older venues in other neighborhoods and shopping centers. Since the spaces are showing essentially the same movies, the audiences don't seem to mind traveling farther to see the same movie in a newer (bigger screen, stadium seating, better sound) theatre. This has left all the chains (Regal, AMC, Clearview, and Loews Cineplex--the last being the new conglomerate of Loews, Cineplex Odeon, and Sony) with huge multiplexes and no audiences, because the cost to renovate the old multiplexes (which were themselves built in the last two decades) would be exorbitant. By building new theatres, the chains have essentially destroyed the business for their older screens. So that leaves empty theatres, which can be filled with product from other sources, not just the major studios. By filling the older theatres with alternative product, the chains are hoping to create a sense of "boutique" cinema. And The Shooting Gallery Film Series is one of the first concentrated attempts to provide this type of alternative programming nationwide.
Programming such as this continues the sense of alternative product that is found on the festival circuit. But it's not just alternative content: there's also an alternative mode of production, because the shift to digital is happening, slowly...