The Audience Is Out There: Cinema is Alive & Well, in New Jersey?

Guest post by  filmmaker Joseph Infantolino. His first feature HELENA FROM THE WEDDING opens in NYC on Nov 12th. That's right. Everyone knows despite the dire commentary of the prognosticators that cinema is alive in well in NYC (cinema meaning films created as artistic expression sans commercial calculation). But I was astounded to discover that cinema is alive and well in, yes, my home state of New Jersey.

In advance of my film HELENA FROM THE WEDDING's release by Film Movement on November 12 at the Quad Cinema in NYC, I did three screenings at multiplexes in shopping malls in the Garden State last week, two for the Filmmaker's Symposium on Monday (Mountainside, NJ) and Tuesday (Eatontown, NJ) and one for the NY Film Critics on Wednesday (Morristown, NJ). I admit, I was a little skeptical. I have a film coming out in NYC, why am I doing 3 screenings in a row in NJ?

The skepticism lasted until I walked in to the first Q&A. In fact, several hundred people came out each night for our little film. Men, women, young and old. Ok, not so young, more on that later. But they were into it, alot of really good questions and generally knowledgeable film fanatics who actually left their homes en masse at night during the week to go to a theater and see a movie that had no celebrities.

The journey from the film's premiere in Texas at SXSW in March to an upcoming commercial run in NYC November 12 has been quite an adventure, but this turn surprised me. As both a fan and filmmaker interested in cinema I spend alot of time fretting about the audience for these types of films. Where are they? How to reach them? Most importantly, how to grow them?

These are important questions because this audience needs to be fed and nurtured, somehow, lest it die on the vine, drowned by broad big budget commercial films (alot of which I also like) and other such calculated mass entertainments. But to be transported to another world by a good foreign film or to participate in an offbeat little film that stirs emotions I didn't even know I had, well, that's something different. And if you look around at the box office of interesting indies like JACK GOES BOATING or MOTHER AND CHILD (which even had celebrities), just to randomly name two I saw fairly recently, and the great cinema coming out of Europe (for example, when the Dardennes have trouble grossing more than a few hundred thousand dollars), you have to be a little concerned that maybe the issue is more than marketing, concerned that maybe film culture really is dying in a reality TV world.

So to find this audience mid week in NJ was a real nice surprise. I will say that this audience was older than any distributor seems to care about, mostly 35-60 and I guess that is the age of the subscribers to these types of film series. These folks are not coming out on Friday night to battle the kids at the multiplex. I think they would come out to a different type of theater but that's another story. But they like this stuff -- if they get the chance to see it. It's why distributors like Film Movement are important, because they do care about this audience, and they deliver cinema to them mostly on home platforms, as trusted curators who scour the world for just the types of films I'm talking about. Does that mean it's a subscriber driven cinema world now? Who knows. It doesn't seem like the kids are into this subscriber thing yet and it's hard to see how they might be. And any filmmaker wants the kids, for they will have kids, they are the future. Where are they?

After the screening on Wednesday in Morristown, I saw my first kid in the audience. Actually not in the audience, he worked for the man who organized the screening. He was about 20, and he was a film buff. He came up to me after the screening and asked me about something in the film and whether it had meaning, whether it was some sort of metaphor. I said it was and was thrilled that he got it and shook his hand and started to leave the theater. Then another kid about 20 followed me out of the theater. He too worked for the series and he asked me if something in the film was a reference to a certain Godard film. I said it was and again remarked how thrilled I was to know he got the reference and told these crazy kids that they were picking up on stuff that no film critic had yet gotten. And I asked these kids: why are there no subscribers your age? They shrugged. But hearing this, another kid about 20 came over and asked me about the influence of Eric Rohmer on the story, and he told me he heard my question, and that he actually subscribed to this series. I just gave him a hug.

- Joe Infantolino Director’s blog: http://cercatrova1.blogspot.com/

Film website: www.helenafromthewedding.com

HELENA FROM THE WEDDING is Joseph Infantolino’s first feature film. He is the writer/director of the short film JIMMY BLUE. which was an official selection of the 44th New York Film Festival (2006), among others. As a producer, his feature credits include films as varied as David Schwimmer’s RUN, FATBOY, RUN (2008) and Jim McKay’s OUR SONG (2001).