All Eyes on Wisconsin

For the next month or perhaps longer, the state of Wisconsin will be one of the most scrutinized parts of the country. It’s an important swing state that could determine the outcome of the election, while simultaneously being one of the worst hotspots for the coronavirus. In the meantime, the good folks at University of Wisconsin in Madison are helping to keep their community sane by having an online film festival. 

The Wisconsin Film Festival was meant to be part of the “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” national tour last spring, and of course was cancelled along with the rest due to the pandemic. The festival has now morphed into a series of screenings available virtually, only for the UW community. Not only are they showing my film, but they are also showing “Gimme Shelter,” which was originally released by Don Rugoff through his company Cinema 5. In conjunction with those screenings, I was interviewed for their Cinematalk Podcast. It’s a pretty in depth interview and was a lot of fun to do. You can listen to it below. Thanks to the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque for their interest.

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Evangeline Peterson – Rest in Peace

Photo by Jacques Perrin

I’ve just been made aware of the passing of Evangeline Peterson. Some of you may know Evangeline as the wife of Don Rugoff, the subject of my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” It is no exaggeration to say that Evangeline was (is) the star of the film. She added parts of the story that no one else would have known, and her intelligence and radiance jump off the screen. 

When I first thought about making a film about Don Rugoff, I had no idea how his family would feel about it or if they would be willing to cooperate. I first reached out to Don’s son Ed and, over an extended lunch, we discussed the project. It seemed as if he was willing. He also mentioned that his mother, Evangeline, was still alive and living in Medford, Oregon. I remembered Evangeline from brief encounters at the Cinema 5 offices when I worked there in the ’70s. She was a beautiful and classy woman; one wondered what she saw in Rugoff, who was not the least bit attractive and a not-very-nice person. Ed promised that he would approach his mother about doing an interview for the film. Continue reading

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Galway Q&A

Among the many film festivals that my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” was scheduled to play at, most were cancelled. However, some, like Cleveland and Galway in Ireland went on in a virtual form. For you indie film wonks out there, in both cases screenings were geofenced to the immediate area of the festival and tickets limited to the capacity of the theater it would have played in physically. Below is the virtual Q&A that I did with Galway Film Fleadh Programme Director, William Fitzgerald.

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#DigitalPerspectives Panel

Further to the back and forth with Wendy Lidell via our Indiewire articles, Wendy & I had a sort of “debate” as part of the #DigitalPerspectives series sponsored and hosted by Together Films. You can watch a replay of it HERE.

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How Virtual Cinema Could Help Arthouses Secure Their Future in 7 Easy Steps

I wrote the following article, which ran in Indiewire on July 1st. Here it is in its entirety, with a couple of added points at the end…

As a believer and crusader for the theatrical experience, the closure of movie theaters all over the world was a punch in the gut. There was an immediate consensus among pundits of all stripes that this was the end of theatrical moviegoing. People would just get used to the idea that they could see what they want at home, so why would they ever go out to see a movie again?

Yet in the art films world, a remarkable thing happened: Several independent distributors created something called “virtual cinema.” Pioneered by Kino Lorber, Magnolia, Oscilloscope, and others, they made their stranded films available, online, in partnership with the independent theaters where the films were scheduled to play. Theaters used their patron lists to market the films; in return, they took a percentage of the gross as if they had presented the films in their physical theaters. Continue reading

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In Memory of Milena Jelinek

We lost our beloved Columbia Film colleague Milena Jelinek to the coronavirus. Click below to read the lovely tribute to this wonderful woman in the New York Times.

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Cleveland Speaks

Among the festivals that my film, “Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” was supposed to play in before the coronavirus hit, was the Cleveland International Film Festival or CIFF as it is known. I was looking forward to attending, since I hadn’t been to the festival since I was there with “Cutter’s Way,” which was many moons ago. I also have good feelings about Cleveland in general, since I was there to witness the Cubs win the world series.
Alas, there was to be no festival in Cleveland this year. However, they are showing many of the films in a virtual festival available to ticket and passholders (Don’t get too excited, it is geo-locked to the Cleveland area.) They have just posted a podcast that is meant to be both an introduction to the film, and a Q&A for those who see it. Luckily, I can share it with you…

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The Rugoff Legacy Lives On

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter just posted his post-Oscars podcast with Neon’s Tom Quinn as a guest. At one point, Tom acknowledges his debt to Don Rugoff’s Oscar campaign for “Z” and they talk about my film. You can hear the excerpt here…

I would also encourage you to listen to the entire episode, which you can do here.

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The Current State of Documentary Distribution

Decades after helping him with his landmark study of the economics of the indie film biz, Peter Hamilton recently had me on his podcast to discuss today’s documentary distribution landscape. Check it out.

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A Gamble in 1970 Set the Stage for a Win in 2020

Throughout this Oscar season, as I watched the smart and aggressive campaign that the folks at Neon were mounting for “Parasite,” I couldn’t help but think about the campaign that Don Rugoff orchestrated for Costa-Gavras’ film “Z” in 1970.

Before Rugoff, no one had attempted to get a foreign language film into any of the main categories, and Rugoff pulled it off by doing some things that Oscar marketers are emulating to this day–touring the filmmaker to theaters all over the country, spending lavishly on trade ads, holding private screenings for Academy members and most effectively, getting enormous amounts of press to position the film as the long shot people could root for. The end result was a literal bombshell in its time. “Z” was the first film ever nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, and also received nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. It walked away with two wins–Foreign Language and Editing.

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