My War, Part 1: The Ugly Side

by Mike Keegan

Editor's note: The Roxie not only is an integral part of the San Francisco film community, but has been closely involved with countless SFFS exhibitions, screenings, and festivals over the years. We asked Roxie programmer Mike Keegan to write about the importance of theatrical exhibition as they approach their Kickstarter fundraising deadline.

Cinema is dead, no one goes to the movies, film is dead, who actually goes to the movies, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, there’s nothing new under the sun—my gosh, don’t you just WRETCH at the thought of these phrases, either in a hundred and forty characters or time-wasting think pieces or overheard on BART or anywhere else under the sun.  Here’s the secret—and I’m preaching to the choir here—American independent cinema is going through an amazing renaissance at the moment.  Really!  It’s just ACCESS to these movies that’s the problem, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie.  You, dear reader, could conceivably write, direct, shoot, edit and upload a feature film with whatever device you’re currently reading this on.  Look here—iMovie for your iPhone is just $4.99 in the App Store.  So let’s try a little experiment—go make a movie.  I’ll wait here.  Go do it–it’ll be fun!  Good luck!

How far did you get?  It’s not that easy, huh?  I mean, it’s technically easy to assemble those elements, but it’s not practically easy to see through to the very end.  So let’s quit it with the condescending “back in my day” quips about hardship quotas that need to be met by each bumper crop of new filmmakers.

If you somehow beat the odds and finish a feature, the next step is getting your movie seen.  Oh boy.  That’s a hurdle.  Let’s skip ahead eighteen months and you took a modest deal that lands your micro budget masterpiece in the menu of a Video On Demand service.   Now your aunt can tell all of her friends about it!  That is, if she can find the folder for it.  Oh, and your competition is THE AVENGERS.  And also every movie ever, all available at once.  Your Indie Wire coverage was pretty great, but your aunt’s friends don’t read Indie Wire (or, at least, not regularly).  Is this movie serious?  They don’t really feel like watching a serious movie tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  Also, now three or four years of your life are gone.  I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN BY MEETING A SURLY DARE YOU FOUND BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON A LINK FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY BLOG!

I’m not saying Video On Demand has to be the death knell of movies.  Realistically, it’s the only option a lot of great movies have to be seen by even the smattering of people who will spend the three to seven dollars to watch it.  But they need to know the movie exists in the first place.

Listen, the history of theatrical exhibition is a boondoggle of greed, codification, short-sighted expansion and hubris on macro and micro-scales.  It truly is. And with forced digital upgrades on the horizon, even more cinemas are crumbling under the financial weight of an industry who could give less of a shit.  Sounds GRIM, huh?

No, not entirely.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future.

Mike Keegan is a programmer at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco.  He was born in upstate New York the year STAR 80 came out and the first movie he saw theatrically was THE ARISTOCATS.