2015 at the Rafael

The first quarter of 2015 brings a host of major foreign film releases to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. In January the Rafael again presents For Your Consideration, a selection of countries’ submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Karen Davis and Janis Plotkin, senior programmers for the Mill Valley Film Festival, organized this series, with some of the films having also played at the recent MVFF.

Both foreign and English-language MVFF highlights return to our screens in several theatrical engagements: Mr. Turner, Beloved Sisters, Mommy, What We Do in the Shadows, Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles and Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed.

But we’re also excited to offer some noteworthy releases that are new to theRafael and CFI, including the Russian Cannes-award-winner Leviathan and the outrageous Argentine Oscar-entry Wild Tales, a satire of human behavior chock-full of surprises.

As for more surprises in the category of coming attractions, we are happy to be working once again with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on two exclusive presentations at the Rafael. This will be our second edition of Hollywood Home Movies, featuring never-before-seen footage from the Academy Film Archive. In addition, Little Annie Rooney, a freshly restored Mary Pickford classic will grace our theater on tinted 35mm film. And for those following Science on Screen, we continue this ongoing series with two unique presentations this quarter.

People frequently ask whether or not a particular title will be coming to the Rafael. Often the answer is simple, but sometimes not. Our theatrical engagements, for the most part, are determined by the film’s distributor, which may or may not let us play the film we want, as well as by the timing of the movie’s release in the San Francisco Bay Area. A film might open in theaters one week after the Festival, but in other cases it could take more than a year to get to us, if at all. The most frustrating situation occurs when there are multiple titles available to us that need to open at the same time. After all, we only have three screens.

Some of the films in For Your Consideration have American distributors, but others don’t, and they may never find one. We have booked films from overseas distributors, just as we work eagerly and directly with individual American filmmakers, but it can be riskier and more expensive when we have the only theatrical engagement in the country and we’re “winging it,” creating our own marketing and publicity materials.

Whether or not we’re working with a distributor, we strive to provide our audiences with the best films and viewing experiences we can muster, ensuring that the Rafael is your first-choice location to see any film.


Art House Convergence

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.



The Rafael Theatre opened to the public 76 years ago, on Wednesday, May 25, 1938. The opening attractions were Boy of the Streets and Bulldog Drummond Escapes, which played for two days, followed on Friday and Saturday by Waikiki Wedding and Satan Met a Lady.


The Rafael’s predecessor at the same location was the Orpheus, the first of the Blumenfeld circuit’s several Marin movie theaters, which opened in January 1920. When a fire destroyed the Orpheus in November 1937, the Blumenfelds quickly decided to build an entirely new theater in its place. By that time, however, the Orpheus was no longer their flagship theater. That honor went to the El Camino, a veritable movie palace at Fourth and Lootens that had opened in 1928 and soon displaced the Orpheus as their premier house. Read more