For the past several years, January has been a special month for us- not only for the annual Sundance Film Festival, but also for the Art House Convergence, a conference of theatrical exhibitors and likeminded souls gathered in Utah a few days before Sundance. Primarily consisting of people who run independent, community-based, mission-driven film theaters (nonprofits but also for-profits), the conference also attracts distributors, equipment suppliers and even some filmmakers interested in making new contacts.
The Art House Convergence is a valuable networking opportunity for its participants. Through panels, talks and discussions (both formal and informal), movie exhibitors can exchange information about challenges, opportunities and successes in the theatrical field. As you must be aware, films are being released on more platforms than ever before- it’s a veritable jungle out there- and the professionals who attend the Art House Convergence are passionate about preserving and nurturing the big-screen, communal experience of going out to the movies. From customer service and concessions to navigating the digital transition and its constant, often confusing evolution, the Art House Convergence offers time well spent.
The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center and California Film Institute have had representatives every year at the Art House Convergence. Mark Fishkin, CFI executive director and founder, and Jan Klingelhofer of Pacific Film Resources, who consults and books for the Rafael, both serve on its Leadership Committee, along with colleagues from around the U.S., including Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, who carries the torch as Conference Director.
Why am I writing about this conference? Because in July the Rafael hosts the second “regional” Art House Convergence, a one-day, mid-year event that was initiated last year at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, New York. While the regional edition is smaller than the annual conference in Utah, it provides another occasion for veterans and novices of theatrical exhibition to meet and exchange ideas, another opportunity to attracts regional participants and perhaps another reminder for all of us to “keep the faith.”
These are challenging times for theatrical exhibition, especially for independent theaters like the Rafael that don’t show the mainstream titles that garner all the media attention and box office. The costs of digital presentation are extraordinary, and the theatrical experience is just one of many options that audiences have for entertainment these days. Every year it seems as if the poor little art house must carry a bigger and bigger drum in order to be heard. But the people who will attend the Art House Convergence believe in the communal experience of film and are dedicated to keeping it alive.