Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sundance Art House Project and the Convergence in the mountains

This was my second year to attend the Art House Convergence, a conference for art house theater operators, programmers, distributors and insiders, held in Midway, UT in the days leading up to the Sundance Film Festival. Last year the Convergence inspired my thesis and the work I've been doing for the Association of Moving Image Archivists, and it started me down the path to running my own theater.   It's a goal that I know I can accomplish now that I'm a part of this network.

This year I had to scrape together (and borrow) the money to attend. (A huge thank you to Texas Filmmakers for sponsoring part of my trip.) I went back and forth on whether or not it was a good idea but ultimately I knew it would be worth it. When I was asked to speak on a panel, that sealed the deal. I was headed to Sundance. This year's AHC was bigger, warmer and moved to a slightly less intimate resort. I also couldn't afford to stay at the resort this year, so my wonderful friends Missy and Ryan made the drive up and down the canyon from Salt Lake twice a day to take me and let me sleep in their comfy guest bedroom. Sometimes I can't believe I have such nice friends. 

On the first day they gave us our little AHC bags with a Sundance water bottle and a notebook with a slot in the front for business cards. I point this out because I've never made more use out of a conference/festival bag. I filled that little notebook almost completely up with notes and, as I look at it now, business cards are overflowing out of the front pocket. (The water bottle came in handy too!) That's all to say that I learned so much at this AHC and met so many people who were willing to share their knowledge and resources. The mantra seemed to be, "let's not just sit around talking, let's go out and make things happen" and they backed it up, too. Everyone was engaged, offering to volunteer and help out where they could, voting on ways to improve the AHC as a network and getting down to business rather than wasting time debating unimportant issues and inflating their own egos (like some other professional groups are known to do).

I learned about profitability, sustainability, running a non-profit, staffing, programming, operations, the ins and outs of digital technology (and how frustrating they can be for an art house theater); I heard Tim League and Ted Hope speak and got to sit in on a round table discussion with Bingham Ray and learn from him. I was invited to visit different AHC theaters across the country and to learn from them.

My panel went very well. Any nerves I had when I spoke on the panel at AMIA in November were gone. I knew this was my audience and that what I had to say was useful to them. The panel focused on the future of 35mm film projection, and included Katie Trainor, who works for the MoMA Film Department and is a long-time projectionist, Brian Belovarac of Janus Films, John Vanco of IFC and me (could I be more out of place?). I talked about my work with AMIA and what I learned through working on my thesis. The room was open to the things we had to say, which were largely (but realistically) in favor of trying to maintain and support film projection. The two morning sessions on the cost of implementing studio-compliant digital technology left a lot of people frustrated and deflated, so I think they were happy to talk about the projection technology that's always worked for them. When I hear projectionists and small theater operators talk about why they want to continue to show film, it reminds me that all of the bullying talk (from studios, academics and sometimes archivists) about them being nostalgic and sentimental is really unfair. These theaters are mission-driven and committed to education and authenticity. It's not one or the other, but both. Anyhow, the session was great and I had a really good time listenting, learning and answering questions.

On the second-to-last day they screened a Sundance film for us, Monsieur Lazhar, which was so good. I got to hang out with my friends James and Amy, who will be opening the Citizen Theater in Fort Worth and are awesome, catch up with friends I made last year and make a couple new ones. It was a good time and it left me ready to get to work on bringing the Fine Arts Theatre back to Denton.
(Just some snapshots of awesome dinner centerpieces, Russ Collins speaking, the Zermatt Resort and James and Amy's feet. Taso told me to take a bunch of pictures and this is what I delivered...)

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