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"I'll Tell You Why Movie Theater Revenue is Dropping," where he gave six reasons for the downtick in movie attendance. Now, the "box office is down" story pops up nearly every year, and you can debate it different ways. David Poland, for example, frequently points out that movie-theater attendance isn't the sole barometer of the health of the film business, and that new viewing platforms can't help but cannibalize older ones. But Ebert isn't wrong that for many people, seeing movies in the theaters isn't what it used to be. (Andrew Sullivan has been on this topic too, quoting from readers for whom theaters can't beat their home experience.)Just before the New Year Roger Ebert wrote a piece entitled
Brian Newman wrote about all this recently, opening his piece, "Rejecting the Movie Theater Argument," like this: "It's time I come out - and admit that I no longer care about seeing films on the big screen at the movie theater." Before I can argue with Brian, because I do try to see movies on the big screen at the movie theater, he catches me out with this line: "Film critics, film industry and almost every single person I know who is apoplectic about people watching films outside of the theater are missing a key point - that they don't (usually) watch such films the same way that others do. Nope. They watch them in private screening rooms rented by distributors and publicists. Or they watch them at film festivals."
Okay, that's me. My job requires me to see films early, so, yes, most of the time I do so at a festival or a press screening. I rarely go to the commercial cinema because many times I've already seen the films or because I've seen so many other movies that week that I'd rather just read a book. But I do go sometimes. And while I agree with complaints about the experience shared by both Newman and Ebert (ticket and concession prices being too high, for example), there's something less tangible that puts me off. Ebert kind of gets at it when he labels "the theater experience" as part of the problem, but I don't think it's only about the texters (who, frankly, don't bother me so much) or the long lines (which do). It's just these days there can be something junky and low-rent about the experience -- and low-rent not in an enjoyably trashy way but in a hollow, soul-less, corporatized way. I guess I'm finding that the giant lobby cards, video games, commercials and mind-battering onslaught of trailers distracts from my viewing. Maybe I'm just too used to the less-intrusive aesthetics of screening rooms, or the warmer, more culturally-apt vibe of a Film Forum, IFC Center or Alamo Drafthouse. Or maybe I'm just thinking about all this because I went to see Hugo the other day at the Regal Union Square. I liked (but did not love) the movie, and wondered if the aesthetic frisson of its various contradictions (older filmmaker using the newest 3D digital technology to build a bridge with the past and reawaken the spirit of Melies for a newer generation for whom moviegoing is a declining pleasure) was undermined for me by the frame the theater placed around it. As I walked out of the theater, past all those lobby cards, I could already feel the film being subsumed within the weight of its own nostalgia.
There's more to be said here, but at least half the time these newsletters are just sketches, and this is one of those. But I need to write more about independent filmmakers' continued fixation on theatrical, and the positive but also negative outcomes of that fixation.
What else? I just subscribed to The Rumpus's new "Letters in the Mail." For $5 a month you get three or four letters in the mail from writers like Stephen Elliott, Margaret Cho and Jonathan Ames. I did this despite never being one for letter-writing. (Email, including this newsletter, is different.) But even though I'm more an internet person I'm interested in things like art based on scarcity and an avoidance of the 'net. I'll let you know what the letters are like.
Finally, a personal plug for Madeline Olnek's Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, opening Friday at Brooklyn's reRun Theater. It was one of our "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" Gotham nominees, and I could tell you about how wittily the film incorporates genre tropes and reinvents a New Queer Cinema aesthetic... but maybe I'll just quote one of our jury members, who in deliberation for the nominees remarked, "There's something to be said about a film that just makes you happy." Go see it.
See you next week.
IFP LABS: ALUMS SINGLED OUT IN THE NEW YORK TIMES In a recent New York Times article., New Directors Flesh Out Black America, All of It, writer Nelson George posits the notion of a new wave of black cinema, singling out recent and upcoming films that are "the most visible example of the mini-movement of young black filmmakers telling stories that complicate assumptions about what "black film" can be by embracing thorny issues of identity, alienation and sexuality;" films with points of view that "expand the palette of images for black American filmmakers." The five primary films cited - Dee Rees' Gotham Award-winning Pariah, Alrick Brown's Kinyarwanda, Andrew Dosunmu's Restless City, Victoria Mahoney's Yelling to the Sky, and Rashaad Ernesto Green's Gun Hill Road are all alumni projects of IFP programs - with the first four having gone through IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs in 2010, and Gun Hill Road a 2010 No Borders selection of Independent Film Week's Project Forum. With the 2010 and 2011 "graduates" of these programs making their way in the world, a new group of emerging filmmakers and projects supported by IFP in 2012 will also begin the process of building their foundations for success. Applications for the 2012 Independent Filmmaker Labs for narrative and documentary films - supporting first time feature filmmakers - will be available in mid-January. More information here.
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CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME By Holly Herrick
"I have to make it clear that I hate all dramas," Madeleine Olnek told me in an interview the other day. "I think making dramas is immoral, if you are capable of making a comedy."
Olnek is a New Yorker who writes and directs comedy films. Plays too. As she's predominantly worked in the short film arena up to this point, her cinematic talents have been under-appreciated. Her Sundance-vetted shorts, Hold Up and Countertransference, are replete with an original sense of humor and the kinds of completely unpredictable, fully New York, totally pathological characters who inadvertently impose their insanity on everyone around them. The victims are often hilariously hapless, slightly wounded creatures, incapable of defense or comeback. One of my favorite examples is the lesser-seen Make Room For Phyllis, in which a shy woman is made to believe she's being invited to participate in a romantic/sexual threesome situation with a heterosexual couple, when in fact the couple is luring her into their domicile to take care of all the household chores. read more THE DEVIL INSIDE In the vein of the Paranormal Activity-style found-footage horrors (and from Paramount's low-budget shingle InSurge, which was born from the success of the PA franchise) comes a new faux-doc from directors William Brent Bell and Joaquin Perea. The Devil Inside follows Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), a woman who travels to Italy to visit her mother, a convicted murderer, in prison. As Isabella investigates her mother's claims that she is possessed by not one but four demons, Bell and Perea throw out some old and new found footage tricks to keep us on the edge of our seats. ROADIE From writer-director Michael Cuesta (Tell Tale, L.I.E.) comes this gritty Tribeca success. Roadie stars Ron Elard as Jimmy, an aging Blue Oyster Cult roadie who returns to his hometown after being ditched by his former employers. Cuesta molds this premise, which might sound like that of a high-concept comedy at first, to create an unexpectedly powerful and dramatic character study. As Jimmy reconnects with family and friends, his homecoming gradually deteriorates into a desperate drug binge, and Elard sympathetically portrays a lonely man-child coming to terms with his unearned rock and roll lifestyle. This week on the blog, Scott Macaulay announces the nominees for the 2012 Heterodox Award, Anthony Kaufman shares his picks for the year's most overlooked independent films (pictured left), and Jason Guerrasio presents his ten favorite movie moments of 2011.
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ASGHAR FARHADI, "A SEPARATION" By Damon Smith
Though not as well known outside Iran as Abbas Kiarostami or Jafar Panahi, writer-director Asghar Farhadi has been steadily building an impressive cinematic resume since graduating from Tehran University in 1998 with a degree in dramatic arts. After a stint developing stage plays and TV series for Iran's national broadcasting corporation, Farhadi co-scripted Ebrahim Hatamikia's post-9/11 political farce Low Heights, about a desperate man who hijacks a plane carrying his wife and handicapped son. He then moved into the director's chair with Dancing in the Dust and Beautiful City, a social-issue film concerning the archaic custom of "blood money" (under sharia, the relatives of a murdered Muslim can accept payment for legal vengeance in lieu of capital punishment for the perpetrator) that screened at Film Forum in 2006. read more
Seattle International Film Festival
Late Deadline: January 6
WAB Deadline: February 3
Festival Dates: May 17 - June 10
Sarasota Film Festival
Regular Deadline: January 6
Late Deadline: January 13
Festival Dates: April 13 - 22
Hamptons International Film Festival Screenwriters' Lab
Late Deadline: January 6
WAB Deadline: January 20
Festival Dates: April 13 - 15