Art House Convergence 2016 Unites Distributors, Exhibitors and Festivals to Explore New Initiatives

This year the Art House Convergence has seen a huge jump in attendance. Eleven years ago when Sundance initiated the Art House Convergence a small handful of arthouse theater owners were in attendance. Five years ago when I began coming, there were more exhibitors plus the distributors of art house cinema began to come to chat and discuss their offerings. The congenial mix of the two charmed me. It reminded me of the early days of Sundance in the late 80s when acquisitions execs all knew and liked each other and we were able to cover all the ground without stress.

This year there were so many more people - about 600 total - including vendors of everything an exhibitor must need plus a parallel event of the Film Festival Alliance, a great initiative of Ifp established in 2010 in which festivals get together to discuss mutual interests.

The confluence of the smaller regional festivals and the art house theaters is a natural fit since the festivals are held in the theaters and bring in the community, obviously a desired outcome of art house exhibitors. All that combined makes for a much larger event than ever before and points toward even greater growth for Ahc, something perhaps to be desired but also something which perhaps will not be quite so welcoming for newcomers as the earlier events.

The topics covered in the break out sessions are a large part about the logistics of U.S. art house operations from creating fan bases and membership. Another large part focuses on festival logistics from starting a film festival – and here I want to give a plug to Jon Gann, the founder of DC Shorts Film Festival for his new book, So, You Want to Start a Film Festival: Conversations with Top Festival Creators -- to the panel “Conversation with Sundance Senior Manager Adam Montgomery” in which Montgomery discussed Sundance’s process of accepting submissions, the work flow, planning, technology, usage tips and more.

Some awards by way of recognition to those who established indies as a going concern and are keeping it going through their hard work and devotion were Gary Meyer, founder of Landmark Theaters in 1975, Jan Klingenhofer and Chapin Cutter.

Niches and small business introducing themselves included the former Emerging Pictures executive Barry Rebo with his new startup CineConductor, along with his international partner Ymagis. The service for a $75 per month fee allows theaters to download unlimited DCPs (The Digital Cinema Package is a collection of digital files used to store and convey digital cinema (DC) audio, image, and data streams.) from all distributors – an easy and cheaper way for theaters to show more films at various times during the week.

Barry Rebo of CineConductor says, “We had a terrific Art House Convergence. We arrived with 51 high profile arthouse members and left with close to 65, maybe more once we re-connect with ones now tied up at the actual festival.

Current venues are both evangelizing our value to new venues and lobbying rights holders to deliver their booked film via the CineConductor service rather than hard drives. It not only save the venues money it makes their day-to-day operations ever more efficient.

We also have two high profile international film agencies we are servicing via the portal - UniFrance’s ongoing Young French Cinema 2 and Tiff & TeleFilm Canada’s upcoming See The North series.

More information about CineConductor: Click this link.

Considering we only debuted the system - really a 'soft opening' - at last year’s Ahc and connected the first batch of venues beginning in June of ‘15 getting to 51 quality sites by the end of the first indicates the service is being seen as being both highly cost effective (venues join on a Network Access Fee basis - no charge for equipment and only $75.00 per month for Unlimited Dcp deliveries of Specialty Film & Event Cinema programs offered by their rights holder via CineConductor.

Rights Holders (Rh) - traditional distribution companies; international film advocacy groups; international sales agents; the filmmakers themselves pay nothing today to post on the CineConductor portal. They pay only $50.00 per feature Dcp delivery Includes Kdm if requested) and $10.00 per Dcp trailer set (flat and scope) once they accept an engagement directly from a participating venue. It’s a great deal for both the exhibition and distribution sides of the arthouse field.

For the broader arthouse community - exhibitors, distributors and audiences - our decision to go this way was based on our belief that by offering a flat fee, more valuable content is made available on more screens. More onscreen diversity will drive a more diverse audience. I’m happy to report it’s already working as planned.

What we have created is truly and international platform. My investor/ parent company, Ymagis, is Paris-based and operates all across Europe. See "

Another endeavor of note is Benjamin Oberman’s (Film Festival Flix) mountain climbing film “Citadel” around which he can mobilize literally millions of outdoors sports folk through organizations he has formed alliances with in every region of the U.S. This type of specialized distribution is one excellent way into the future! Compared to his development of this last year, he has moved miles ahead.

Another to watch is Bobbi Thompson as she creates pop-up theaters in studio spaces with art exhibition for adults with learning disabilities and other handicaps.

An example of the new types of festivals is that of Gary Meyer, always a pioneer from his launching of Landmark theaters, of animation showcases, of Telluride Film Festival programming to his newest, Eat Drink Films. Based in a San Francisco his site discusses film and food and hosts recently Real Food Media also announced the launch of its third-annual contest with a call for submissions of super-short films on underreported issues, unique change-makers and creative solutions to foster a broad, public conversation about solving our global food system’s most intractable problems – from hunger to diet-related illnesses to environmental crises.

And Ahc has gone international. Last year a few folks from France, Europa Cinemas and the U.S. in Progress in Poland (American Film Festival’s Ula Sniegowska) and in France (Adeline Monzier of Unifrance) were here. This year they are here again and joined by Brigitte Hubmann of Telefilm Canada with film packages available directly to theaters via Barry Rebo’s CineConductor, a model that German films and all other national film entities should emulate. Also attending this year is Europa International, a consortium of 40 European international sales agents from 13 European countries looking to find direct outlets to theaters without the distribution middleman. This will become increasingly important at Netflix swopes down on worldwide digital rights acquisitions. TrustNordisk’s head of sales, Susan Wendt from Denmark represented Europa International here.

Europa International’s panel presented European case studies on ways to attract new audiences in the era of social media with an eye toward directing young people towards “quality” cinema and fostering critical minds while forming partnership strategies included Justin Camileri of Euro Media Forum, Fatima Djoumer of Europa Cinemas, Matts Gillmor of Palladium, Elisa Giovannelli of Cineteca Bologna and Justyna Kociszewska of Kino Lab.

U.S. distributor Neil Friedman’s Menemsha Films is here with the Jonathan Pryce film “Dough” a funny and feel-good trans-cultural mix proving ‘you don’t have to be Jewish’ to love this film. Representing Menemsha at Ahc is former United King acquisitions executive from Israel, Oded Horowitz, who has now moved to California with his partner and their 6 year old twin girls. Diarah N’Daw-Spech of ArtMattan is here among now old friends managing to inject some diversity into a little too homogenous population of film lovers.

This place is full of 'our' people, that is, we-the-now-older generation who got this thing going in the 80s: those I mentioned above plus Paul Cohen, Ira Deutchman, Anne Thompson, Mj Pekos (Dada Films), Larry Greenberg (Momentum/ eOne), Richard Abramowitz (Abramarama), Cary Jones (IFC), Peter Baxter (Slamdance), Peter Becker (Janus) (who was a young one when we began but was there - and our sympathy to him for his father’s passing… whose colleague Jonathan Turrell whose father Saul in those days in print distribution at Janus Films was one of New York’s most colorful figures), Ron Diamond (Animation Show of Shows), Peter Belsito (SydneysBuzz), Mark Fishkin (California Film Institute), Christian Gaines (ArtPrize), Larry Kardish (Board member and former head of NY Film Society, Lincoln Center, now with Chatham Film Club), Greg Laemmle of Laemmle Theaters, Los Angeles’ preeminent indie arthouse started by his grandfather Carl Laemmle, former head of Universal (!), Richard Lorber (Kino Lorber), Scott Mansfield (monterey media), Mike Thomas (Theatre Properties) and Michael Donaldson (Donaldson & Callif).

After the panel “Why Critics Matter: A Conversation with Anne Thompson and Sam Adams” moderated by Ira Deutchman, a discussion of contemporary film criticism and its importance within the independent exhibition community created a flurry of comments on the Ahc newsletter which you can read along with other year round commentaries of importance by subscribing to Google Groups "Art House Convergence". Sam Adams himself writes,

“In a national survey covering 25 art house theaters and 20,000 patrons, Avenue Isr's Woody Smith said that reviews were the third-most important tool in drawing audiences to theaters, just behind recommendations from friends. (Most-effective, by a wide margin: trailers.) 41 percent of respondents listed print reviews among the most important factors, with online reviews at 35 percent, although the former number drops dramatically when limited to viewers 35 or younger.

Speaking anecdotally to me, many exhibitors told me that Rotten Tomatoes plays a huge role in what films audiences select. In one medium-sized market, the local paper, which no longer employs its own critics, uses the Tomatometer to decide which review to pull from the wire services: If it's "fresh," they run a positive review; if it's "rotten," they run a pan. By pretty much any measure, that's a huge dereliction of duty — not to mention incredibly lazy journalistic practice — but the good news is that same exhibitor sought me out later to tell me he going to start a criticism contest for local students, bringing back dialogue to a community that's lost an outlet for those voices.”

At Ahc with a new panel discussion, one most worthy of notice is Hollie Mahadeo, General Manager of Enzian Theater in Maitland Florida. Her initiative, Starting Young: Hooking Youth on Cinema, discussed cultivating the next generation of filmgoers and film lovers. Amy Averett of Alamo Drafthouse, Mats Gillmor of Palladium and Hollie Mahadeo of Enzian spoke of their successes in this crucial area.

Hollie has spent 17 years building a home for youth in cinema. Art houses do not generally think about kids because the ones working in them are usually young and single and the ones attending them are usually grandparents. As Hollie and her colleagues grew, they married and now have children and so are concerned with how cinema and their own children will interact. Six years ago their audience was all over 40 and so they began programming to get 20-somethings in.

Then they started courting the children with their Peanut Butter Matinees, programming films to appeal to the children and their parents, like “Neverending Story”. These monthly matinees work well for parents with children from five to ten years who would not ordinarily go to cinemas. The room seats 220 but is filled with tables and chairs so some play while others eat and others sit enraptured by the cinema. They have 1,200 screenings in a year and are a $3.5 million organization in all.

The Peanut Butter Matinee has a kid friendly menu, balloons to take away, raffles to take part in and the film, always projected digitally. It has grown to special holiday celebrations for Christmas, Halloween, Easter and the children have also grown. The events are free for children under 12; all others buy $8 tickets.

Amy of Alamo states that it is cheaper to bring kids to the movies than to hire a babysitter.

Enzion has also instituted a Filmmaking Camp, a summer day camp now in its seventh year. It began as a one-week camp for 10 kids but now has a four-week camp, Thirty-two kids go to a two-week session in Camp 1 and another 32 go to a second two-week session. They have temporary staff of two filmmakers who bring in the equipment and one head instructor, a teacher from a local film school and a counselor to help with the scheduling, meals, and other issues. There are volunteer filmmakers from college and a junior counselor program for kids too old to be campers but too young to be filmmakers (yet). The oldest graduate of the camp is now in high school and looking at film schools. The youngest camper is in the fifth grade. At the end of the camp there are at least two world premiers.

Now they also have youth acting Programs. For grades 2 through 12, classes are held after school twice a week.

All in all, the Ahc was full and fun. The cold was bitter and when we left to go down the road to Sundance, about half of us were nursing our first winter colds which made for an even more fun filled Sundance Film Festival…well for me at least, my low energy level was no match of the excitement of the festival this year.
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