I recently got a message from filmmaker Keith Bearden, the director of Meet Monica Velour. He wrote:
Just got back from the Seattle Film Festival, which in a city of 1.5 million fills 500-800 seat theatres for a month with 400 plus films--that's a huge percentage of the population seeing films that have no publicity, including many that will open in theatres or on pay per view days or weeks later. Even in a very sleepy, tech savvy city with bad parking, they still get people to stand in line for indie, foreign and odd films. Is it because they have created a cultural context for seeing these films, that people are part of a cultural event? Something social that people can talk about before and after, like going to a sports game or rock concert? How does that translate into cinemas in other cities not part of a film festival?
Also, working in Paris part of the year, they have over 300 cinemas (many with multiple screens!). They used to have more! I realize it's a different culture, but one of the keys is that young people can get a all access pass that lets them see as many movies as they want. They go in bunches, they get in the habit of seeing lots of different films in the cinemas, which is a habit they carry on into later life. Also, this youth brigade is what created the great cult phenomenons over there throughout the years of films that play for years and years...
We could do a lot more to strengthen film culture in our cities and countries. The first step is society to publicly acknowledge the importance of cinema. With the state of the world being what it is, I understand why many would not feel that this is such a priority. Yet, and I don't know about you, but for me, one of the initial draws that a life in the arts -- and particularly cinema -- had for me, was the form's ability to inspire, motivate, and transcend. I want to live in a land where the community feels these are important virtues.
Fugazi, the seminal DC band, always played shows with lower ticket prices. They actively made sure kids could get into see them, playing all age shows. How great would it be to have the cinematic equivalent of Fugazi?!
I have yet to make a film that got anything less than an R rating, so I can't begin to say that I have made work that can inspire the young, but it's exciting to think of an initiative that would offer youth -- heck anyone under the age of 24, or with college loans, or unemployed, or working for the state, or any under-rewarded profession (like teachers) -- lower cost admissions to films.
It is not just the quality of the films that keep people out of the cinemas, that leads audiences to prioritize other activities over movie going. I strongly believe that a film-literate populace is a more caring and active populace. One of those other qualties that attracted me to movies was how deeply I could connect with characters on the screen, even when their actions or beliefs were so very different than mine. It seems to me that we find very little common ground between us nowadays, yet no one likes that fact. Maybe we could get candidates to campaign on a platform of increased movie going...
Seriously though, what other such initiatives could be adopted to foster a more avid cinema going public? How has Seattle and Paris built such communities? What could other festivals do to foster such civic spirit?