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in Filmmaking
on Jun 9, 2011

Last night I attended a pre-opening for the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center. It’s a gorgeous space with two theaters that are both modern but possessing of a classic arthouse vibe. Seeing Manhattan and An Affair to Remember unspooling threw me back to the Golden Age of NYC rep that I experienced in my college years. Particularly exciting was the space that lies in the middle — an airy auditorium with raked bench seating and the world’s largest plasma screen TV. Screenings will be held in this space as well as lectures, Q&As and community events. I’m looking forward to seeing Frederic Jameson speak there Sunday afternoon (and digging out my old copies of Marxism and Form and The Political Unconscious in order to polish up for a blog post).

One upcoming event is From Britain with Love, a series of independent films from the U.K. that is playing at the Film Center in mid-July. But the Film Center is just one stop on a tour that would have been unimaginable years ago. Writes Emerging Pictures’ Ira Deutchman on his blog:

For a very long time, I’ve been proselytizing to just about anyone who would listen about how digital projection could change the way we think about a theatrical release. While most people in the industry focus on cost savings, which can be substantial over time, I’ve been fascinated with the disruptive element–the fact that our entire notion of what constitutes the traditional theatrical model has been built around the economics of shipping these precious items called “prints” around. These assets, once bought, beg to be used as often as possible to justify their cost. Yet, every time the print is run through a projector it is deteriorating, and constantly at risk of being severely damaged. Switching from one film to another in the projection booth is a clunky process of splicing and unsplicing reels, subjecting the prints to even further potential damage. It’s not for nothing that the budgets for theatrical release are called P&A, indicating that the budget for prints has a prominence that is equal to or greater than any other part of the distribution budget.

But things are different in the digital era.

But what about the “A” in P&A? How do we get attention for smaller films without having the budget of Fox Searchlight or Focus Features? Taking another page from repertory cinemas, I’m a big believer in packaging films together thematically in order to get more attention for the package than one could ever get for any single film. There are many examples of this over the years, from the “French New Wave” to “Dogma 95? to ”Mumblecore.” While some of these were more successful than others, they were all basically marketing ploys to elevate a certain type of film and get more attention.

Pulling these ideas together, why not recreate the repertory cinema model for the digital age–program different strands of films on different nights, day-part them if you will. Why not stage national events to showcase those strands and have audiences feel like that are part of something larger–something they can’t get on TV or from a DVD?

That’s just what From Britain with Love is — a national tour branded around a distinctive concept that uses digital screening to get new independent movies to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise find them. Check out the series’ trailer below and Ira’s complete blog post at the link.

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