Thursday, January 26, 2006

Food for Thought

(Or maybe it's just "chicken soup for the cinephile's soul?")

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the last Slate Movie Club:

For some people, the social aspect of moviegoing has been brutally curtailed ever since Hollywood started focusing on the youth market and scaring away most other people. Apart from a few important initiatives, such as MoveOn's organization of house parties around certain documentaries, DVDs aren't regarded as social instruments yet in quite the same way as movie theaters, but it's possible that this is only a question of time. Consider the potential options: Anybody can organize a film club with DVDs that can meet in storefronts, houses, flats, or just about anywhere else, and it isn't even illegal if you don't charge admission. Maybe someone will figure out a way of both charging admission and selling copies of the DVD after the screening, but even if they don't, the social possibilities of viewing DVDs in surroundings that are more intimate and comfortable than theaters have barely been tapped. And what's equally important is all the social activity that's already been taking place around these movies on the Internet.

And some choice bits from a fantastic interview with Bérénice Reynaud (read the whole thing!):

So what we have to do for a place like REDCAT or Los Angeles Filmforum is start rolling up our sleeves and do it grassroots. Send emails, send reminders, make phone calls, because we can't afford half a page in the LA Times. We have to make sure that we maintain an alternative film culture in Los Angeles, which is even more difficult than maintaining an alternative film culture in the United States in general because people in LA think that they know everything that there is to know about film. The entire film culture revolves around Hollywood and maybe a few European art films. This is such a waste. Why isn't information circulating more? Why aren't we doing more?

...

But look at Paolo Davanzo [curator of the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles]. He doesn't get articles because he usually does not know far enough in advance what show he's going to have. His mode of programming reminds me a bit of what used to happen in the old days of the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris: people would drop in with a print under their arms and they would get it shown. To keep the culture alive, we need screening spaces with this kind of spontaneity, energy and flexibility. So Paolo publicizes his screening through e-mail. And he does get an audience.

Earlier this week I went to the Galapagos art space in Williamsburg, where among other things the Ocularis screenings are held, and saw Amir Muhammad's The Year of Living Vicariously (not bad). And it was comforting to me to think that, even if celluloid goes within a decade, even if theatrical exhibition were to one day cave in to pure digital-online availability, experiences similar to these--where friends, or a community of some kind, can put together a screening and show something they feel is important, worthy, underseen, or just interesting--will never die.

5 comments:

Matt said...

My goal, Mr. Zach, is to one day see Out 1 with you. In a theatre.

We'll make a (very long) day of it.

jmac said...

Z., I think that your writing on Ocularis is really beautiful. I recommend that everyone skip Sundance & go to Galapagos Art Space . . .

:)

rain Bard said...

Interesting that the Year of Living Vicariously was the selection. Fascinating film.

I've never mentioned this before because of the quasi-legality of it, but for the past year and half I've run a monthly free DVD screening night at a small non-profit involved in homeless and poverty issues, using a digital projector to throw the image onto a big white wall for the benefit of a largely non-cinephile audience. Sometimes we put a poster or two up in the neighborhood, sometimes we send out e-mails, sometimes we get a big turnout (earlier this month we showed Pleasantville to quite a big crowd, but the biggest we had was when we worked things out with a local filmmaker to show his documentary and let him sell DVDs at the screening) and sometimes not, but we always have discussions after the showing, and it's always a worthwhile experience.

Zach Campbell said...

Matt: We'll organize a little film festival Down Under. Day 1: Abel Ferrara panel. Day 2: Out 1 ... introduced by Rivette himself. Day 3: Recover from Out 1. Day 4: Very short films. Actualities from 1895-1905. Robert Breer things. Day 5: Back to features, namely, Showgirls, and after we watch it we'll do a scene-by-scene breakdown with Rivette on the microphone.

J: Galapagos is a cool place and I've always found the Ocularis schedules interesting (even if I've never made it out to them before, much to my shame). There are two more screenings this season that I'm really hoping to go to (the Disaster program and the McClure program).

rain Bard (ah, that old handle!): I don't believe that there's anything illegal about your series if it's free. Someone better informed than I am can help us out with this maybe ...

mainman said...

(in the spirit of old handles... good to see you still writing Zach, Brian gave me the link)

Technically it is in fact not legal to show a film (for profit or not) without the express permission of those that hold the copyright to a group of people whose admission is not restricted (i.e. if anyone off the street can come in). In practice no one enforces this.

Not only did one have to pay a fee for this to be legal (which I never did, but did look into.. the fee was sometimes a few hundred.. the same rental fee as getting the 35 mm print.) you could only legally play the video that was sent to you by the controller of the copyright. I remember being horrified by the pan and scan copy of Rebel Without a Cause that was shown legally in this manner.

I think Rosenbaum is being a bit naive one the role of DVD's, however. I’m guessing this is because that until DVD's, by his own admission, he never really experienced home video. I would argue it was not DVD's but video projectors that started the revival of communal film clubs. I started one in the auditorium of my grad school laboratory in 1996 because of the availability of the video projector. I started showing VHS then moved to laserdisc and DVD’s. New weekly video screenings seemed to pop up every week on campus in the late 90's. Also I think these types of ventures may have actually tapered off with the boom in home theatre, but that could just be because I’m no longer in the university environment that breeds these video screenings so effortlessly.