The following article was written by John Ewing, the director of The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. It appeared in their May / June 2014 calendar.
We're fast approaching the end of another fiscal year, so I'd like to get some things off my chest. This way maybe I can start the new fiscal year on July 1 with a more positive attitude.
Press coverage for smaller new independent and foreign films has really gone away. The limited space available for movies in print publications is no longer being distributed equally among the new films opening any given week. Instead, big movies – and by that I mean the highest profile, most heavily promoted and advertised Hollywood movies (Gravity, Divergent, et al.) – are given the bulk of the space (and large photos). Most films opening against blockbusters (including many movies that end up getting higher letter grades from reviewers) are forced to scramble for real estate in a back-of-the-movie-section "land rush." This is happening more and more in Entertainment Weekly, which now relegates many of the new releases that will show locally at the Cinematheque, the Cedar Lee, or the Capitol (Enemy, Le Week-End, The Missing Picture, et al.) to three or four sentences in their "Also Playing" dumping ground.
As for The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com, they stopped reviewing most of the major new films that premiere exclusively at the Cinematheque a long time ago. But now even films that play for at least a week at the Cedar Lee are being neglected – not only in the print edition, but also online. In the April 4 PD Friday magazine, for instance, five new films were relegated, unreviewed, to an "Also Opening" sidebar. Included were to highly acclaimed indie movies (The Lunchbox, Particle Fever) that were guaranteed at least a weeklong run at the Cedar Lee. The Lunchbox did get a wire review from The Newark Star-Ledger on Cleveland.com, but as I write this on 4/5, there is still nothing on Particle Fever. Wasn't the online newspaper, with its infinite space, supposed to allow all kinds of news and coverage that couldn't be squeezed into the print edition? Apparently not.
Oh and, by the way, the new Romanian film Child's Pose, which the Cinematheque premiered in Cleveland on April 4 & 5, was not one of the five movies "Also Opening" on April 4. But if this movie – which was one of the most acclaimed films of 2013, and which won the top prize at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and which was Romania's official submission for this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – didn't open in Cleveland on 4/4/14, what did it do?
Broken records. During the record-setting 38th Cleveland International Film Festival (97,804 attendees in 12 days!), the Cinematheque set a record of its own: the worst Saturday night in our 28-year history. On Saturday March 29, a total of 12 people came to see the two movies we presented that evening (The Good, the Bad, the Weird and Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire). Total ticket sales were less than $100! It's always hard for us to compete against the film festival, but we had always done much better than this. I blame that night's late-season snowstorm, coupled with the film festival, for pushing us into the record books, making 3/29/14 a night to remember (or, rather, to forget).
Big screen/small screen. I've noticed that most people are content with watching films on DVD or Blu-ray at home unless the movie in question happens to be one of their all-time favorites. That movie, of course, has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Well, guess what? Most people don't share the same favorite movies, so I guess almost all movies really should be viewed on the big screen.
People in glass movie houses. In my 28 years of running the Cinematheque, I've met lots of foreign-born moviegoers. They are among our most ardent supporters. Many of them have complimented us on our wide-ranging, eclectic, international offerings, at the same time criticizing the monolithic movie culture that pervades so much of America. However, I've also observed that a few of these "foreign-film buffs" seem to attend only films made in their own native country or language. So are they any different from "provincial" Americans who see just English-language movies?
What a difference a word makes. I cringe when people use the term "depressing" to describe a film that deals honestly – and usually compassionately – with a harsh aspect of life on earth (e.g., Amour, about old age and death). In most cases these same films could be described as "moving" or "eye-opening" or "unforgettable" – non buzz-killing adjectives that might actually encourage people to see tough, important films instead of avoiding them.
Pasolini post mortem. I'll end this cranky column on an upbeat note. I'm happy to report that a combination of good press coverage in the PD, higher ticket prices, and decent attendance allowed us to cover the lofty cost of film rentals for our January-February Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective. A heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you who helped to make this happen! By the way, Willem Dafoe, who appears in person on June 7, will be playing Pasolini in a new film directed by Abel Ferrara.