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Art House Convergence Welcome and Opening Address

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by Russell Collins
February 1, 2013 5:30 PM
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The Art House Convergence, now in its 6th year, is held just prior to Sundance Film Festival and gives art house theater owners a chance to collectively address issues of common concern in a supportive and congenial setting.  Increasingly, art house distributors are also enjoying the chance to meet and talk personally with their constituency.

Russell Collins, CEO of the Michigan Theater and Director of the Art House Convergence has this to say:

Thanks to everyone who attended the Art House Convergence – it was a record setting year in every way. Despite the challenges we all face, I think most who attended the Convergence came away with the feeling that there is a bright horizon ahead for community-based, mission-driven Art House cinemas. Thanks to all the panelist and volunteers who made the 2013 Art House Convergence a success! Several people asked me to post the text from my welcoming address, which you will find below. Thanks again everyone!!  Best Regards – Russ

Welcome Address by Russ Collins, Director, Art House Convergence

Welcome to the Art House Convergence. Welcome as we celebrate the Brave New American Art House. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to gather here in Utah with colleagues and friends and, with strangers who will soon be friends, to execute the mission of the Art House Convergence. 

The mission of the Art House Convergence is to increase to quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America.  We hope you will help us pursue that mission by constantly improving your Art House, as well as helping colleagues make their Art Houses better place for audiences to experience cinema art and be highly effective community centers.

This conference would not be possible without the hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers. Thanks to Art House Convergence Conference Committee – if you participated in one or more of those Friday calls that happen throughout the year as we plan the Art House Convergence, stand and be recognized. 

It is so great to see so many of you here! How many are here for the first-time?  Wonderful, welcome to Utah to the Art House Convergence.  How many of you are staying, for at least a day or two to go to Park City and check out the Sundance Film Festival?

I see a lot of friends; friend that have grown from the 25 brave souls who came to this first Art House Convergence to this year, with nearly 350 registered delegates at this, the sixth annual gathering of community-based, mission-driven cinema operators.

The strong theme of this year’s conference is The Brave New American Art House. So, what’s the Brave New American Art House? 

The Brave New American Art House is a set of ideals that looks something like this:

  •        It is located in Canada, Mexico or the USA.
  •        It is focused on frequent and regular screenings of Art House movies – classic, foreign, documentary, independent and experimental cinema (and sometimes other cultural programs the community demands).
  •        It actively seeks community support – it believes philanthropy and volunteers are important and viable sources of revenue and support.
  •        It is a cultural institution – it teaches its community about the art, craft, grammar and historical importance of cinema.
  •        As possible it is dedicated to quality celluloid AND digital exhibition methods – providing state-of-the-art image and sound across all eras and formats (including live music for silent-era films).
  •        It believes excellent customer service is paramount – it trains it employees and manages its marketing, facilities, event presentations and staff to put the customer’s experience first.
  •        It makes cinema come alive – with intelligently curated programs and ever expanding relationships with living filmmakers.
  •        It is community-based – it is not part of a national chain.
  •        It is mission-driven – it has a triple bottom line: A triple bottom line calculated in: 1) community benefit; 2) artistic quality; and 3) financial success.
  •        Its business management is strategic – it plans effectively and does not expect Deus ex Machina* to magically provide for its financial success.
  •        The Brave New American Art House annually sends staff and board members to the Art House Convergence to have fun learning and being inspired by dedicated and resourceful colleagues.

The “Brave New” of the Brave New American Art House is an intentional literary reference to both Aldous Huxley and Shakespeare – because, you know, Art House people are just a little smarter and better-read than your average movie exhibitor (some might say “snooty,” rather than smarter and better read, but I think “smarter and better read” works better with this audience). Huxley’s novel expressed the notion that the fast-paced world of the future would force dehumanizing changes, causing anxiety, the loss of intimacy and individuality. Plus, Huxley also predicted that movies in year 2540 would be called “feelies,” a cinema-style entertainment that creates the illusion of an entertainment reaching out and literally touching the audience. Which given the ironic nature of the novel supports the poetic notion that 3-D is the movie technology of the future – and it always will be!

Of course Huxley and the Convergence both stole the phase “brave new” from Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST. The play’s most famous lines are said by the Prospero’s daughter Miranda, who looked on in wonder as drunken sailors stagger in a disorderly manner from their wrecked ship, and said:

“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.”

And although Shakespeare’s words spoken by is character Miranda were ironic, I believe, stated without irony, that this “brave new” notion is correct, because today and for the next several days the Zermatt and Homestead resorts will be full of goodly people; goodly community-based, mission-driven Art House people. How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!

The ethos of the Art House Convergence is a commitment to quality, openness and community. It is the antithesis of the “whatever the market will bear,” cutthroat and mass market dynamics of commercial exhibition. Please know I’m not saying one is better than the other – both of these commercial dynamics are viable, even needed, but the ethos of each are juxtaposed. The Art House Convergence ethos embraces the notion that philanthropic subsidy from a community will create a stable, culturally significant center for cinema to be experience, taught, supported and loved for cinemas intrinsic artistic and cultural worth and for civic enrichment of communities.

The community-based, mission-driven exhibitor is a powerful but subtle aspect of the movie business; too subtle to be deeply appreciated in a blockbuster obsessed media or in a greed driven entertainment industry.  And, let’s be honest the Art House movement will not create millionaires and it will not be the hot new thing that transform media culture.

At this point cinema is an old art form, like painting and writing, sculpture and dance, theater and music. Although artists always do new things with their forms of art, the art of cinema itself is now an old form. It can no longer be a shiny new thing and that’s OK; because cinema presented on a big screen in a darken room full of strangers is a great thing; a profound thing that can deeply move the human psyche and transform lives.

Although the financial scale of the Art House, compared to half-a-billion dollar superhero blockbuster, is rather small, it is significant and the long-term impact is critically important; because the Art House plays an essential role in preserving and promoting the best and the brightest of cinema for diverse audiences.  Your Art House is a sacred shrine and home to the most profound form of creative expression created in recent human time.  

And just as important, Art Houses are exciting, sustainable and practical venues that effectively bolster the vitality of local neighborhoods and transform lives through the creative vision of the people who work there and the poignant cinema found in these remarkable little arts institutions.

Over the decades, the Art House community has had a hard time finding its voice, a hard time believing it is in fact a community and a hard time feeling like it is a citizen in the wider cinema world. But now, with the Art House Convergence we have found our collective voice, we are starting to believe in our potential and we are growing the number of communities throughout North America who are demanding community-based, mission-driven Art House cinemas in their towns.

Your Art House as a key community institution – feel it, own it. You provide a vital service and you are an important economic driver in your neighborhood. Being a community-based, mission-driven, not-for-profit Art House you can be much more than mere movie venue and employer, or recipient of charity and coordinator of volunteers. You are a flagship asset, an essential cog and an indispensable part of a healthy community.

Over the next few days, what will be most important for those of us gathered here in Utah is to feel the strength and joy of being among kindred souls, of benefiting from shared knowledge and experience and feeling anchored to this non-profit Art House movement.

Welcome to the 2013, Art House Convergence celebrating The Brave New American Art House. We hope all delegates, who this year come from around the world, will share with great enthusiasm all that is wonderful and brave and new about their Art House and their community. Thank you for coming to the Convergence. And as the Bard of Stratford on Avon almost said, “How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!” Enjoy the 2013 Art House Convergence.

From Russ Collins
CEO, MichiganTheater-AnnArbor
Director, Art House Convergence

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