Category Archives: Film

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. (more…)

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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…

Comments after the break… (more…)

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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.

Comments after the break.

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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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West Coast Premiere of “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Scheduled for the Palm Springs Film Festival

After the amazing premiere we had at DOC NYC, I’m pleased to announce that the next stop on the festival tour for “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” will be at the 2020 Palm Spring Film Festival, which will serve as the film’s West Coast Premiere. I’ve heard from so many of you that you wished you could have been at the first showings in New York, so here is your chance to participate in the celebrations. The screenings are as follows:

January 3
10:30 am
Camelot Theaters at the Palm Springs Cultural Center

January 8
6:45 pm
Regal Cinemas

January 9
2:00 pm
Palm Canyon Theater

Looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

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World Premiere of “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” Slated for DOCNYC

Big news in my personal universe today! I’m pleased to announce that the documentary film that I’ve been working on for the last five years is completed and will be having its World Premiere at DOCNYC. The title is Searching for Mr. Rugoff and it’s the story of art film maverick Donald Rugoff, the legend behind the mid-century film exhibition/distribution company Cinema 5 and a notoriously difficult (some would say crazy) person. He was my first boss in the film business and the movie is about my search for the truth about the man who had such a major impact on my life and on the history of art films in America.

I’ve also just launched the official website for the film at http://mrrugoff.com. Check it out, and get tickets for the premiere. Here’s the info:

World Premiere – DOC NYC

Friday November 8, 7:00 pm
IFC Center
Tickets

Tuesday, November 12, 12:30 pm
Cinepolis Chelsea Cinema
Tickets

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Traverse City Film Festival Panels Take On Big Issues

For the last 11 years, I’ve been attending Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan, sometimes as a panelist, sometimes as a juror, but mostly as a moderator. In addition to being a very pleasant place to visit, the festival is always well-curated and screenings take place in theaters with state-of-the-art projection and enthusiastic audiences. In other words, it’s a great event.

Every year, Michael has panel discussions that deal with issues that are on his mind, taking advantage of the availability of guests who are at the festival. I was asked to be on two panels this year, both of which are posted below, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio. I think you’ll the discussions to be pretty interesting.

And the Future of Film…

Moderator: Michael Moore, Panelists: Andrew Ahn, Bob Byington, Ira Deutchman, Rachel Mason

Cinema Saves the World

Moderator: Ira Deutchman, Panelists: Karim Amer, Darren Dean, Christina Ibara, Jehane Noujaim, Lije Sarki

Comments after the break…

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Classics of “New Queer Cinema”

In 1992, Fine Line had five films at Sundance, but by complete accident, two of those films put us in the middle of the conversation about what had just been dubbed “New Queer Cinema” by film historian and critic Ruby Rich.

Ruby moderated a panel on the subject at Sundance that year. The two Fine Line Films, which were Tom Kalin’s “Swoon” and Derek Jarman’s “Edward II,” were both considered difficult films, and the fact that both of them were being distributed by Fine Line garnered us a lot of public praise.

I had already handled a number of gay-themed films earlier in my distribution career, so I was aware that gay audiences were a loyal part of the art film audience. That didn’t mean that anything with gay subject matter would get an audience…but the right films—the  ones that didn’t pander, that didn’t reduce gay culture to stereotypes, and especially the ones in which gay life was treated as a given—these films stood out and the audience would be there.

My first professional encounter with a gay-themed film was with the movie “Outrageous!,” a Canadian film that was released in 1977 by Cinema 5. My job was a combination of co-op advertising, media buying and promotion. My boss, Don Rugoff, had taught us how to zoom in on niche audiences, mainly by use of radio. One of the biggest radio formats at that time was disco, which definitely had a huge chunk of the gay audience as regular listeners, so we set up promotions and word-of-mouth screenings through these stations all over the country. The ad campaign was simply the word “Outrageous!” in bold type, with no graphic image whatsoever. The entire campaign was built on the fact that audiences just loved this film, and all we had to do was tease them into the theater. Word-of-mouth was incredible and the film was a genuine art house hit. (more…)

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Rediscovering “Waterland”

In 1991, Fine Line was humming on all cylinders. In our first year, we had already hit gold both commercially (My Own Private Idaho) and critically (Angel at My Table), and had a solid slate of upcoming releases. Looking forward, however, it seemed like there weren’t a whole lot of promising potential acquisitions.

A script came across my desk called “Waterland.” Nicholas Roeg was attached to direct, and the script, which was based on a beloved British novel, was long and unwieldy. The book it was based was commonly deemed to be “unfilmable.” Initially, we—and I’m guessing all the other specialized distributors—passed on it.

Later that year, the project came back with a new script, with a new director (Stephen Gyllenhaal) and with Jeremy Irons attached to star. The cast also included Ethan Hawke, Cara Buono, John Heard and the debut of future “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey. Compared to the original version, it seemed that the script had wrestled the density of the novel down to a very personal story—one that we thought would touch people. The price tag to pre-buy the North American rights was reasonable, and we were hungry for product. We made the deal; it was Fine Line’s first investment in production. (more…)

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