My War, Part 2: The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future

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. Read Part 1 of his post here.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a groundswell of theaters across the country that have used this as an opportunity to reinvent the way they operate.  Super-focused programming is an important element, as is truly engaging with your audience, programming for that audience and that audience, in turn trusting the left turns you throw in there every once in a while.  Along the way, something really neat accidentally happened—in this hyper-connected, everything-on-demand age, regionalism snuck back in to movie going.  Cinefamily in LA, the Hollywood in Portland, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, the 92YTribeca in Manhattan—there are a lot of titles we have in common, both old and new, but we also show a lot of stuff, both old and new, that are of interest only to our particular regions.  And I think that is AWESOME.

At the Roxie, we have a couple of unofficial (and official!) guiding principles, but the one I keep going back to is “the best/weirdest/coolest films of the past, present and future”, and it shows the continuum of our programming well.  Our repertory titles are largely deep cuts, b-sides and maligned-at-the-time shoulda-beens.  The new movies we show are from the same cloth–festival favorites, under-distributed or self-distributed, and currently maligned shoulda-beens.  The thing is, we love these movies and want you see them.

We are a theater completely driven by that love—passion of the new filmmakers who’s work we proudly show, the passion of persistent festival directors and staff, passion of programmers rediscovering old movies from film collectors who have kept rare prints safe despite specious legal standings.  Passion from the people who buy tickets day after day, week after week, to be exposed to modes of thought and expression that aren’t easy to define, list, or review.  When you walk through our doors, you’re going to be exposed to a movie that is special to us.

To go back to my Video On Demand point… The movie is the thing, and that thing is magical.  It’s a magic best experienced with a crowd of people in a dark room built for the express purpose of projecting light onto a screen.  I know that the Roxie, along with the other theaters I mentioned, are the exception to the rule.  But it’s a mistake to count theatrical exhibition out of the game for movies under a certain budget.  Look at the big self-distribution stories of 2013, INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE and DETROPIA–the Roxie played both of those movies for three weeks, lending them increased visibility and a nice paycheck at the end of it.  Movies aren’t supposed to die alone and un-mourned once the final festival is over.  People want to see them, and talk about them, and love them.

Going forward, in 2013, the Roxie is going to do MORE—MORE exclusive engagements, MORE party screenings, MORE mind-blowing deep rep, MORE Film Festivals, MORE gigantic retrospectives, MORE stuff that you just can’t see anywhere outside of our 103-year old theater on 16th & Valencia.  Problem is, doing MORE means MORE costs.  In the last couple of years, the Roxie has honestly grown exponentially, which is of course amazing and completely due to the kind people reading this right now, but our budget is struggling to keep up with our ambition.  We’re an old theater but a young non-profit.  We’ve got a Kickstarter to help up bridge our last big gap.  If you notice, a lot of the benefit levels come with Memberships.  Our Membership program is GREAT—free movies and popcorn and special Members-Only screenings.  So, I’ll see you on 16th St?


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.