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Save LACMA Film Protests

by Anne Thompson
August 10, 2009 12:13 PM
7 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

My e-mail is inundated by folks who want to save the LA County Museum of Art film program. L.A. film fans are pissed that LACMA saw fit to close it down before most of us knew that it was threatened. Here are eloquent editorials from critics Todd McCarthy and Ken Turan.

If Ian Birnie, who ran the program for 13 years, had been given some kind of directive, we could all try to boost attendance or push for extra funding. But this way, it's a fait accompli mounted by museum director Michael Govan, who may care about art but does not seem to care about classic film. According to Birnie, Govan thought the film program was already dead, a dying dinosaur with rising costs. "We have to see what will come out of the ruins," he told Birnie.

Govan is talking about focusing on new directors and experimental cinema, which misses the point of building a large following for serious classic programming. The point is, this kind of program can only work with support from above and a clear direction. If they shut the program down and send what loyal followers they have home, it will be tough to get them back again. All momentum will be lost.

Tom Christie spells out the reality of the situation in LA Weekly.

Here's the current save LACMA film petition going the rounds, if you care to weigh in, the Facebook group, the blog, and a YouTube campaign short (below). Am I the only one who fears that it is too little, too late?


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More: News, Exhibition

7 Comments

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  • Doug Cummings | August 13, 2009 10:01 AMReply

    "In order to find the audience that still exists for non-first-run films in theaters they would have to get a bit down and dirty, and I doubt they have the stomach for it."

    David, I couldn't disagree more. The audience is there for LACMA's "masterpiece" programming . . . this is an issue about whether or not LACMA itself will support the program with a decent budget and active top-down promotion. The last thing it needs to do is mimic the same kind of programming that's happening elsewhere in L.A.

  • Bonnie Voland | August 11, 2009 12:07 PMReply

    As I read the July 29 article on the LA Times’ front page about the closure of LACMA’s esteemed Film Department, with a photo from a 1997 screening of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS which was misleadingly used as indicative of the depth of the Department’s programming, I felt like salt had been poured on the wound of losing one of the finest film programs offered anywhere. Although it won’t heal the injury of the Film Dept’s closure, I was so thankful to see Kenny Turan’s beautifully written and righteously angry piece about the closure of the Film Department at LACMA, and then Richard Schickel's similarly toned piece.

    As someone who was a film fan before becoming a member of the international film community, I have been so upset about this, on both a personal and professional level. I have educated my 17-year-old daughter, who has been attending screenings there since she was 5 years old, about film, culture, and people through the films that Ian Birnie programmed from all the corners of the world, showing everything from silent films – with live organ accompaniment – to the most cutting edge films of directors such as Christopher Nolan, with personal appearances and Q&As; with everyone from Robert Wilson to Norman Jewison. I have discovered new films and been re-acquainted with old favorites. The Film Department offered all types of films, and if you went often enough your film knowledge could rival that of any film school’s program. I have kept the programs from most of the films I’ve seen there, and while budget constraints caused them to be printed on cheap plain paper, the content was solid gold. If a museum’s mission is to educate and add to the cultural fabric of the city, LACMA has just torn a gaping hole in the tapestry of LA.

    For anyone who cares, last Saturday night the place was practically sold out for BEING JEWISH IN FRANCE, and its showing at LACMA for 3 days is probably the only release this film will have in LA. Clearly, Michael Govan and the board at LACMA doesn't seem to care - in fact, I've never seen Mr. Govan at a film event at LACMA.

    Let’s hope there are more forward thinking institutions in LA that will take the soon-to-be shuttered LACMA Film Dept. and transport it lock, stock and smoking barrel to new headquarters where it will be receive the respect it deserves.

  • David C | August 11, 2009 5:21 AMReply

    As a high-toned cultural institution, LACMA has naturally been reluctant to pursue the changing rep demographic down the byroads of exploitation chic and edgy foreign fare, as the Cinematheque, CineFamily and even, recently, the UCLA Archive have been doing. In order to find the audience that still exists for non-first-run films in theaters they would have to get a bit down and dirty, and I doubt they have the stomach for it.

  • Ramin Bahrani | August 11, 2009 4:32 AMReply

    Dear Anne,
    I signed the petition with this comment below a few days ago and posted it on my facebook page for others to see and hopefully sign.
    Best regards,
    Ramin Bahrani
    NYC
    "Cinema is- as always- in a dire moment. LACMA is critical to keeping the balance of your city's collective imagination alive. Like every city (including NYC and small-town America), LA's eyes, ears and dreams are under a constant bombardment of vulgarity and profanity. Please restore one of your city's critical and best defense systems before everything rots away into an unrecognizable swamp." - Ramin Bahrani Aug 2009

  • Cotty Chubb | August 11, 2009 4:20 AMReply

    For what it's worth, Anne, I spoke with Michael Govan today. I don't know how much of what he was saying of his intentions is appropriate to share, since he certainly wasn't speaking "on the record," but in general I can say he told me of his plans to enhance the program at LACMA and to enlarge its audience. I'm not sure I would have gone about those goals in the same way he did, but if he secures the necessary economic support from patrons (where else can he find money these days?), and the end result is what he described, I think everyone will be pleased.

  • cadavra | August 11, 2009 4:14 AMReply

    No, you're not. The higher-ups have had it in for the film program pretty much from Day One. It's not about money. It's about film-ain't-art.

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