Within a month of when I started working at Cinema 5 in 1975, Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature, Hester Street, opened at the Plaza Theater on 58th Street. The Plaza was one of the Cinema 5 theaters and it was located around the corner from our offices. Every night, on the way home from work, I would see the lines of people stretched all the way down the block toward Park Avenue. The film was a huge hit. Around that time, I first met Joan and her husband Ray when they came to our offices to make a deal with us to distribute the film to the non-theatrical market. I learned that my boss, Don Rugoff, had turned the film down for theatrical distribution because he thought (as many others did) that the film was “too niche.” But now that the film was a hit, he wanted in.
My job at the time was as a non-theatrical salesperson, so I was on the phone all day with colleges, libraries and other organizations, trying to get them to book our library of films. Hester Street would not only be a valuable addition, but would be of particular appeal to Jewish organizations, which we were already servicing with such films as Garden of the Finzi-Continis and The Sorrow and the Pity, among others. Continue reading “A Tribute to Joan Micklin Silver”
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.
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 “Evangeline Peterson – Rest in Peace”
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.
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.
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 “How Virtual Cinema Could Help Arthouses Secure Their Future in 7 Easy Steps”
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.
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.
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.