The Big Picture: Art-house arrest
Pasatiempo | The New Mexican | 8/6/2009
Size shouldn’t matter, but sometimes it seems that big is all people want when it comes to movies.
While the paying public plunks down its cash to see such summer blockbusters as G-Force, Public Enemies, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — making these pictures instant box-office hits — managers of art-house cinemas around the country are looking for new ways to attract younger viewers and keep old-time loyalists happy while paying the rent by showcasing “small” pictures.
Changing times, fast-paced technological advancements, an aging audience, the closure or scaled-back activities of art-house distribution companies, and the fact that mainstream multiplexes — like Regal DeVargas in Santa Fe — are playing art-house titles have contributed to the challenge of maintaining a single or even double-screen cinema devoted to art films. Yet directors of art houses are putting up a valiant fight, with some finding new ways to keep their houses vibrant.
“We are really trying to appeal to all ages, but our bread-and-butter audience is the older, aging art-film crowd from the counterculture era,” said John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, which opened in 1986. “Our attendance was down 21 percent from our last fiscal year.”
Brent Kliewer, programmer for The Screen on the College of Santa Fe campus, echoed Ewing’s comments. “Business is off,” he said. “Looking at the Hollywood hits this year, it’s pornographic what some of them are making. Everyone has the illusion that the movie industry is better than ever. People say to me, ‘I bet you guys are doing good.’ But good times don’t mean that Séraphine is breaking records. It doesn’t mean that anything small is doing big business.”
The Screen’s future has been in limbo since the financially strapped college announced that it was closing last spring. Now, with the city agreeing to take on $30 million in debt and lease the college campus to Laureate Education Inc., it seems that the 10-year-old art house will survive for now. Kliewer said he expects to talk with Laureate officials sometime in August.
That said, he acknowledged that the art-house enterprise has changed, with many programmers, like himself, looking at the bottom line. Continue reading →