Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kanschat, behind 2009 drubbing of LACMA film program, leaves museum

From the Los Angeles Business Journal

County Museum COO to Retire
By Deborah Crowe

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Thursday said that Melody Kanschat will be leaving her position of chief operating officer in May.

Kanschat, who has held several roles with LACMA since 1989, has been COO and president since July 2005. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the museum and overseeing its $60 million annual budget. She also is overseeing the museum’s $150 million expansion that includes the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion and the new Ray’s restaurant and Stark Bar set to open in March.

“Melody has helped lead LACMA through a period of unprecedented growth, not only in land and buildings, but in the increasing public accessibility of the museum that she has championed during her entire career here of more than two decades,” Chief Executive Michael Govan said in a statement. “We will miss her steady hand, extraordinary administrative skill, big appetite for new challenges, and her drive for excellence and accessibility in equal measure.”

Kanschat persisted in criticizing on the program even after a widespread grass roots movement succeeded in reversing the decision, and after a marked uptick in ticket sales.

"The film program is still in jeopardy," Melody Kanschat, LACMA's president, said last week. "Considering all the press and all the clamoring to raise the profile of the program, the amount of attendance was not knock-your-socks-off. It was a very slow growth."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

That most sardonic of French proverbs—the more things change, the more they stay the same—is on our minds. Perhaps that's because LACMA just completed its 19-film Jean Renoir film retrospective in tandem with the exhibit of paintings by Renoir-père, Pierre-Auguste. Yes, we’re thinking in French!

But it’s also because, regrettably, the saying characterizes where things stand right now for LACMA’s film program. As the museum’s budgetary year-end approaches on June 30, the one-time $150,000 bail-out funding package by Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Ovation television will also expire. The time is right to revisit the progress of film at the County Museum.

Eight months ago the grassroots movement run by Save Film at LACMA induced museum director Michael Govan to reverse his decision to cancel the much-loved but purportedly budget-draining 41-year-old classic film program.

And much has changed since:

• Attendance has skyrocketed.
Awareness for the program, sparked by our campaign’s publicity, has resulted in very full houses at the Bing Theater’s 600-seat auditorium. A broad audience that values viewing art film in an art museum is voting for LACMA film with its feet. Not only did the popular Audrey Hepburn series achieve multiple sold-out screenings, but the demanding tone poems of the Andrei Tarkovsky series also boasted high attendance. Screenings are fun, super-charged community outings. And LACMA attracts the best crowd: well heeled, educated and respectful.

• LACMA successfully launched a dedicated “Film Club” membership feature.
Angelenos generously responded to LACMA’s urging that they tap their pocketbooks to support the program – adding an additional $50 to the basic $90 LACMA membership charge, this in tough economic times for all. “Film Club” membership now stands at 450.

• LACMA executive management openly supports the popular program.
Mr. Govan, who made the decision to ax the program, is now its ardent vocal supporter.

• The program has garnered high-profile pledges of support.
During the season, our County-funded arts institution was consigned to a private firm, Warner Bros., to promote the launch of its Clint Eastwood boxed-set film retrospective. On that occasion, thrilling to our ears, Mr. Eastwood himself publicly pledged to financially support the program. In another hopeful evening for our community, director Martin Scorsese engaged in dialogue with Mr. Govan both implicitly and explicitly lending his support to the program.

• LACMA’s Board of Trustees is newly peppered with entertainment industry names.
Wealthy film-industry art patrons populate Mr. Govan’s roster of Trustees, including: William J. Bell, Brian Grazer, Michael Lynton, Carole Bayer Sager, Terry Semel, Barbra Streisand, Steve Tisch, and Casey Wasserman.

• We’ve entered a golden age of big-screen classic film projection in Los Angeles.
Film lovers are coming out in droves, bucking traffic and the increasing rat’s maze of parking automobiles on our city streets to join fellow citizens in the shared experience of viewing movies as they were meant to be seen, on the big screen. The campaign to save LACMA’s program has trickled down benefit to repertory film programs across the city, ranging from the American Cinematheque to REDCAT to Cinefamily to Filmforum to UCLA Hammer to Last Remaining Seats. Within this group, however, LACMA remains the paramount bastion of classic world cinema.

And yet, despite all this positive change, much remains dismally the same:

• No results (yet) from Mr. Govan.
Mr. Govan’s stated ambition to raise multi-millions to convert the program from a budget-draining line item (his characterization) into an independently funded endowed museum program to parallel its peers has thus far come to naught. The economic environment, a LACMA press spokesperson reminds us, is difficult. She also notes that Mr. Govan, whom she says has been actively fund raising for the program, has a “lot of ‘asks’ out.”

• New revenues are not directly benefiting the program.
Neither the uptick in box office revenue, nor the film membership fee income is directly benefiting film. According to a LACMA spokesperson, this money is instead relegated to the Museum’s general operating fund.

• The film program has yet to receive a targeted contribution either from a new (or existing) LACMA Trustee, or from high-profile pledgers like Clint Eastwood.
This astonishing fact despite the reality that for one million dollars you too could not only be a local hero but probably get your name on the program in perpetuity.

• Film is still not integrated into the Museum panoply.
Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote of the current Pierre-Auguste Renoir show: "It all adds up to this: Conventional wisdom is confirmed, not denied. Late Renoir is mostly bad Renoir, an array of often cloying paintings." Jean Renoir, on the other hand, is a genuine titan of world cinema, a major influence--probably the major influence on the French New Wave, and thus on modernist cinema. And his films are rarely screened. So, where’s the significant fine art?

• Still a begging orphan…
The Museum has reapplied to Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Ovation TV to re-up their combined $150,000 underwriting package. Since it’s the best sponsorship deal in town, we see little reason why the organizations should not continue their funding.

• … on a shoestring budget.
LACMA film still operates on a minimal annual budget of approximately $200,000. It’s managed by a small staff led by film curator Ian Birnie, still working on an external consulting contract.

As life goes on, so, too, the travails of LACMA’s film program. We cannot imagine that the museum would again cancel the program--unless it wishes to see a perfect storm of Paris 1968 and the Watts Riots ominously roll across Wilshire Boulevard!

Jaded LACMA filmgoers may sigh Gallicly, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose,” but we hope the museum will take counsel from another French quarter, that of Emperor Napoleon, when, in writing to General Jean Le Marois, he declared, “Impossible n'est pas français!”

Debra Levine and Doug Cummings

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blaming the Audience

The grassroots protest that embroiled a segment of our community over the past month has resulted in the continuation of a museum program that occupies a unique historic position among Los Angeles's rich repertory film offerings. This has been a wonderful, even thrilling, self-defining moment for our city and its culture.

Not surprisingly, different takes on the “problem” and how to provide a solution to the problem are surfacing.

LACMA's current Hong Sang-soo series has been a misery, cries Scott Foundas in today's L.A. Weekly. Shame on the bad audience! Only one hundred customers per show! And yet, a 2002 screening of Hong's austere, black-and-white Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors enjoyed a full house at USC’s 340-seat Eileen Norris Cinema Theater.

What was different? USC’s Korean studies department, along with the Korean Film Council, marketed their event well. (The Council is also co-sponsoring LACMA's series but you wouldn’t know it from their current website, which mentions neither the series nor Hong's appearance.) The cross-selling opportunity with LACMA’s “Your Bright Future” South Korean art show should enhance audience, not diminish it.

But in any case, Mr. Govan and his team of LACMA executives have made it clear that ticket sales will not ensure the program’s future; only a patron providing a long-term endowment will save it from extinction. Film, now officially coexisting with other art forms at LACMA, will no longer be held to a different standard than the museum’s other programs that do not have to justify their existence by foot traffic. To which we say bravo!

LACMA is a museum. It’s not a commercial entity; it’s not a movie theater. It is a non-profit culture palace staging a wide range of exhibitions, some which generate solid income, and others which are subsidized, as it were, by the revenue generators. The presence of the film program as part of the mix, and indeed the make up and composition of the film program, replicate this model. Popular programs (e.g. Hollywood classics) are there to support and build audience appetite for lesser-known, challenging programs (e.g. Hong Sang-soo). This all seems pretty obvious and should go without saying.

The truth is that LACMA has gradually starved the film program of a significant marketing budget. The series had become a secret divulged only to museum members in a quarterly newsletter. Many young film students enrolled at USC and UCLA degree programs tell us they did not even know about the screenings. There is no print calendar or program material, other than a one-pager available at the Bing the night of the screening.

Save Film at LACMA believes the museum now has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage from our (copious and free) publicity to rebuild its program; given the outpouring of interest, why wouldn’t the film series enjoy strong participation if properly promoted? One theory is that it will fail because audience members are lazy petition-signers. We disagree. Shaming the client is not a good starting point. A more winning strategy would be to embrace our community and its love of film.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'Save Film at LACMA Night' Celebrates Taiwanese Masterpiece on Sept. 26

Crisp new print of A City of Sadness, a film never released in the U.S. or on DVD, represents the importance of a vital film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 16, 2009 — Save Film at LACMA, the grassroots group dedicated to the uninterrupted presence of curated classic and international film screenings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has designated the Sept. 26 screening of a new print of Taiwanese classic A City of Sadness as "Save Film at LACMA Night."

Save Film at LACMA activists, members, Facebook fans and petition-signers are invited to attend the Saturday evening screening to celebrate LACMA’s eight-month extension of the beloved program.

“We encourage all film lovers to share this special Saturday evening together. Our movement was spawned by a love of cinema and recognition of the unique historic relationship Los Angeles holds with this great art form,” says Save Film co-founder Debra Levine.

Museum Director Michael Govan recently told the Wall Street Journal that LACMA’s ongoing presentation of film, “will be realized if patrons and the public believe it worthwhile and contribute to its realization." Save Film at LACMA wishes to demonstrate that the series enjoys a robust and passionate audience when properly marketed. The group also wishes to use this occasion to express appreciation for the museum’s talented film programmers, Ian Birnie and Bernardo Rondeau.

About A City of Sadness

A City of Sadness (1989), from director Hou Hsiao-hsien, is a landmark of the Taiwanese New Cinema depicting the impact of the country’s history on ordinary lives. Despite great popular success in Taiwan and being voted one of the five greatest Chinese films of all time by the Hong Kong Film Awards, the film has never had a U.S. distributor nor has it been released on video or DVD. It has not been available for any public screening for almost a decade.

This brand new print, created at LACMA’s initiative, was financed by the Taipei Economic Cultural Office, and will subsequently tour important art-film outlets across North America, including Yerba Buena in San Francisco, Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and cinematheques in Cleveland, Vancouver and Toronto, among other cities this fall.

The intimate epic traces a family’s story from 1945, when Japan ended its half-century occupation of the island-nation, to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government retreated from the Chinese mainland to Taipei. The film is celebrated for its long takes and complex narrative structure.

“Hou Hsiao-hsien is widely regarded as one of the most important filmmakers of our era,” notes Save Film co-founder and film critic Doug Cummings. “This print would not exist -- or be screening in Los Angeles -- if not for LACMA’s film program. It’s a rare opportunity to see this masterpiece projected on the big screen.”

Derek Hsu, senior press officer at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office adds, “We’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of a rarely shown film depicting a tragic chapter in Taiwanese history. It concerns what happened to the Taiwanese people when the Japanese occupation ended.”

About Save Film at LACMA

Save Film at LACMA is an open group; anyone can join via the Save Film at LACMA Facebook page or follow the savefilmlacma Twitter feed. News about the screening program is regularly posted on our blog,

Save Film at LACMA comprises key individuals concerned with improving the museum's film program, its marketing and financial support in order to protect a treasured program from future dismantling.

The grassroots movement enjoyed a great success when the public outcry over LACMA's July 28 suspension of the film program prompted museum officials to reconsider and extend the program through June 2010.

# # #

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lacma and the Cinéastes

After protests, a museum reprieves its film program


Call it the revenge of the film nerds, if you must. But jokes aside, the surprising triumph of several thousand mostly ordinary film lovers over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has inspired grass-roots organizations everywhere. And so it should, for it demonstrates that sometimes those who wield cultural power must listen, and heed, the concerns of regular folk.

In this version of the David versus Goliath tale, the museum's scruffy, decades-old weekend film program—long regarded within the institution as less than a stepchild, if not quite an orphan—was headed for oblivion thanks to a decision by the museum's director and CEO, Michael Govan, who arrived at Lacma (as the museum is widely known) 3½ years ago after a dozen years running New York's Dia Art Foundation.

I have strong feelings about this program because my mother often took me there on weekend nights when I was young. Then, as now, patrons would gather in the 600-seat Bing Theater, the least changed part of the museum, which opened in 1965. In the dark-paneled Bing, with its backlit swag curtain and always-uncomfortable seats, I saw films starring Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. And as my mother must have hoped, I fell hard, just as she had, for movies.

Back then, the legendary Ronald Haver—equal parts scholar and enthusiast—ran the program, and after he died in 1993 it was eventually taken over by Ian Birnie, who just lost his full-time job as the head of Lacma's film department after 13 years.

Mr. Birnie will remain at Lacma as a consultant through June 2010—and maybe even longer. He had previously been told that his services would no longer be needed after October of this year, when his series on Alain Resnais will have run its course.

What changed? An irate public, frankly.

News of Mr. Birnie's departure and his department's imminent demise were announced in a museum press release on July 28. The usual explanation for such things was offered: falling attendance, rising costs, a desire to start something bigger and better. But none of it rang true for the film program's longtime denizens, who knew that the operation was always run on a shoestring ($60,000 annually lately, excluding salaries) and that even years ago screenings only rarely sold out.

When the story broke in the Los Angeles Times the following morning, many were appalled to find a beloved fixture of their cultural lives suddenly imperiled. But a few went beyond clucking and acted, including two cinéastes who had never met. Both, not incidentally, were bloggers.

Doug Cummings, a graphic designer at Caltech, posted a short essay decrying the shuttering. Debra Levine, a dance critic, praised his cri de coeur and linked to it. And so was born—with a few intermediary steps—Save Film at Lacma, as grass roots an organization as can exist in the era of Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, both those social-networking sites proved pivotal in the campaign to reinstate Lacma's film program. So did an online petition that has attracted more than 2,700 signatures. Most of the names, including a significant number of film programmers and critics, didn't seem to faze Lacma. But some had the potential to draw the sort of attention any public institution would rather avoid, among them the Oscar-winning filmmakers Alexander Payne (No. 1,117), Martin Scorsese (No. 1,532) and Curtis Hanson (No. 1,606). Even Hugh Hefner (No. 1,829) joined the chorus.

On Aug. 10, Save Film at Lacma asked to see Mr. Govan. He consented, though a previously scheduled vacation delayed the meeting until Sept. 1. By then, Mr. Scorsese had written an open letter to him, published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 12. Pressure was mounting. Aug. 26 found the museum crowing that donations of $150,000 from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable had secured the program through the current fiscal year, ending June 30, 2010.

But the so-called popcorn summit between Mr. Govan and his Save Film foes didn't prove quite the capitulation some had anticipated. The protesters had clearly won the battle—the weekend film program was given a reprieve and Mr. Birnie will select its content—but its long-term future remains murky. Mr. Govan, according to those present at the meeting, spoke in grand terms of a revivified film program, but with a focus on art rather than cinema. And he insisted that millions be raised to keep the program sacrosanct.

He also unveiled CineClub, which the museum refers to as "a new membership opportunity." Lacma's film screenings are still open to anyone who buys a ticket, though museum membership slightly reduces the cost. CineClub asks museum members to donate a further $50 earmarked for the film program. But there is little incentive to do so short of funding a worthy cause, especially because Mr. Govan has not committed to keeping the weekend film program beyond June, even with the influx of such funds.

More vexing—to both the program's fans and outsiders—is the dichotomy of Mr. Govan crying poverty while simultaneously raising funds for grand projects like Jeff Koons's "Train," which will dangle a full-scale, 70-foot-long replica of a 1943 steam locomotive from a 160-foot-tall crane. The cost of what is being reported as the most expensive work ever commissioned by a museum? Twenty-five million dollars.

With such lavish indulgences well beyond the planning stage, according to the Art Newspaper, it's hard to imagine that Mr. Govan and the museum's trustees couldn't raise the much smaller amount necessary to run Lacma's modest film program if they really wanted to. For now, the life of that program has been extended. But there could be strife again come June. L.A.'s film fans have already risen to the occasion. Now it's Mr. Govan's turn.

—Mr. Mermelstein writes for the Journal on film and classical music.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cine-club round-up

In response to the launch of CineClub, LACMA’s new cinema-focused membership add-on, Kyle Westphal, Programming Chair Emeritus, Doc Films at University of Chicago who attended the Popcorn Summit, provides comparative data on similar film memberships around the country.

Westphal concludes that LACMA should be praised for taking the initiative to quantify public support for its film programming; if a significant number of members sign up for this premium it will certainly send a strong message to trustees, fundraisers, and friends of the museum that film has real and substantial support among its core constituents. This action represents a level of commitment beyond buying a ticket, but (well) short of endowing the program.

The lowest individual membership level LACMA currently offers (other than the $25 annual student membership) is a $90 tax-deductible 'Active' Membership. This $90 contribution already accords members a discount for film and music programs, so the $50 CineClub premium cannot offer that. Its appeal lies in 'priority ticketing,' an e-newsletter, and, most importantly, the promise that "dues will help support film events, outreach, and efforts to increase overall awareness of LACMA's film department."

Whether that's worth $50 to museum members remains to be seen.

It's not an unprecedented move, as many museums with substantial film programs offer something similar. For the sake of comparison:

Museum of Modern Art in New York offers a staggering deal: Annual memberships as low as $75 give you free admission to every film screening and MoMA presents several a day.

Museum of Fine Arts in Boston offers a stand-alone Friends of Film buy-in for $80 that gives you six free admissions, invitations to sneak previews and special Friends of Film events, and, again, an e-newsletter.

Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio--an avowed model for Govan--doesn't offer a specific way to support the film program, but a $50 membership includes four free film tickets and other perks.

Cleveland Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art offers a $35 Cinematheque membership which gives a $2 discount on all film tickets.

George Eastman House in Rochester, New York offers a number of options. Museum members (the lowest entry level is $50, $35 for students) receive a $2 discount on all film tickets, and $15 discount on the already discounted Take-10 pass. Additionally, museum members can add $200 to become part of the Dryden Film Society, which promises: "you are invited to hush-hush private screenings; you can shmooze with visiting artists, and you have privileged access to the knowledge of curatorial staff, which covers just about every facet of film history you ever wanted to know about (and more)."

Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a robust film program and a study collection. No specific film support option, but a basic $60 gives up to a 50% discount on event tickets, which presumably includes film.

Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has its own $50 membership. One of its perks is actually a $10 discount on a general Art Institute membership! Also: $5 admission to all films, $4 admission to the Film Center lecture series, and four free popcorns. Art Institute membership offers no Film Center benefits.

Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive members ($50) receive discounted film admissions. Their Cineaste Circle (minimum donation: $1,000) offers you a chance to "share your passion during Cineaste programs focused on films and filmmaking and with the actors, directors and cinematographers who regularly visit the Pacific Film Archive." You also receive two invitations to filmmaker events, recognition on the PFA donor wall and in its newsletter, and a panoply of other general benefits.

In conclusion, Westphal agrees with Michael Govan that the introduction of a CineClub membership option is a step in the right direction. CineClub will bring LACMA's membership options in line with other museums with strong film programs. CineClub memberships alone, however, cannot underwrite the film program, nor were they designed to.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Save Film at LACMA Learns LACMA’s Intentions at Popcorn Summit

At Sept. 1 meeting Museum reveals its renewed search for funding to reinstate a full film program.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Sept 2, 2009 – In an 80-minute meeting with Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, representatives of Save Film at LACMA campaign were told that significant donor support – not ticket sales – is the determining criterion for ensuring the program’s nebulous future.

Save Film at LAMCA, a grassroots group that is vigorously campaigning to preserve the museum’s 41-year-old film program, presented Mr. Govan with its petition bearing 2,700 signatures. The museum abruptly announced on July 28 that weekend screenings would end in October, but reversed its decision when a broad outpouring of local, national, and international protest compelled LACMA to find stop-gap funding. The film program now has a temporary extension through June 2010.

“The prognosis for film at LACMA is by no means guaranteed,” said Debra Levine, who heads the coalition. “We learned that Mr. Govan wishes to reconfigure film as an endowed department coexisting with other art forms at the museum. That’s wonderful. But film will only enjoy a long-term presence at the museum’s Bing Theater if the director is able to secure significant, high-profile donations or patronage. Without such a rescue package from an external source, there will be no film program in one year. Mr. Govan unambiguously warned us of this possibility.”

In his meeting with the activist group, Mr. Govan thanked Save Film at LACMA for raising the alarm about the endangered film program, and said that the headline-grabbing issue – the story has received national media attention – has opened doors to potential corporate and philanthropic supporters. Soon after the meeting he specified to the Los Angeles Times that $5 million to $10 million in donations will be required.

The “popcorn summit” between Mr. Govan and Save Film at LACMA included several experts in repertory film programming, including Shannon Kelley of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Kyle Westphal, formerly of the film society Doc Films; Margot Gerber, director of publicity and promotions at the American Cinematheque; repertory film executive Jared Sapolin; and Michael Schlesinger, a veteran executive of classic film distribution.

Also following the meeting, LACMA launched CineClub, a $50 add-on to museum membership. But it was clear from the financial figures raised in the meeting that such low-level support will not turn the tide. “It was presented to us as a done deal, with the press release written and ready to go out,” noted Schlesinger.

“The fact that LACMA’s CineClub press release implies audience members are not loyal enough unless they ‘follow the examples set by corporate donors’ is another development that leads us to question LACMA’s interest in addressing the concerns of the community,” added Westphal.

The CineClub plan also bears a marked contrast to one of the nation’s most successful museum film programs -- that of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in which museum members are automatically given free admission to daily film screenings.

Programming content for the re-envisioned film program is still undetermined, although Mr. Govan affirmed Hollywood history should figure in the repertory of a Los Angeles institution. He expressed an eagerness to introduce cutting edge video and digital art into the mix as well. He alluded to outdoor screenings in the park adjacent to the County Museum and he cited the integrated gallery screenings of the “Dali: Painting & Film” exhibition as a successful model.

“The museum’s pursuit of a grand vision for film funded by major donors marginalizes the average Angeleno’s stake in the cherished and longstanding program,” said Save Film at LACMA co-founder Doug Cummings. “The CineClub plan is an expensive option for common moviegoers who will prove reluctant to donate funds to a program that is still largely undefined.”

The future of Ian Birnie, LACMA’s internationally acclaimed film programmer, remains in the hands of museum leaders. Birnie lost his full-time position when the program was initially canceled, but was later reengaged on a contract basis.

“It is important to maintain a sense of urgency,” said Levine. “Because of the outcry from impassioned Angelenos, the museum has, for the moment, made film a fundraising priority. Mr. Govan has a strong track record as a fundraiser, so we hope he seizes this opportunity to secure the existing program and then grow it from there.”

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

Monday, August 31, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

In the final chapter of our five-part tribute to Ian Birnie's program over the past 13 years, we would like to highlight some of the many Preview screenings at the Bing Theater.

• Match Point (In person: Woody Allen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Lisa Guerrero, and Rachel Roberts)

Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog in person)

• Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney in person)

• Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bennett Miller in person)

• Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh in person)

• The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky in person)

• Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell in person)

• Tokyo Sonata (Kyoshi Kurosawa in person)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Movie Buffs vs. Museum in a Dispute Over Cuts

People across the country are reading about our campaign in today's New York Times. Writer Larry Rohter notes that although LACMA reversed its decision to end its weekend film program, questions remain regarding its specific content and long-term future.

"On Wednesday the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV announced combined donations of $150,000, enough to keep the program running through next June in the city that is the financial and creative center of the world film industry. Problem solved and crisis averted? Not exactly."

Read the full article here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Another high point of Ian Birnie's programming has been the many exhibition-related film series he has provided over the years (part four of five):

One of our favorites was the six-week 2007 film series, "Through the Looking Glass (and Down the Rabbit Hole...)" that coincided with LACMA's popular Magritte exhibition.

It featured a very diverse roster of films: Hollywood classics The Wizard of Oz and Vertigo, edgy thrillers Point Blank and Rosemary's Baby, hard-to-see foreign masterpieces Woman in the Dunes and Celine and Julie Go Boating, and recent gems Eyes Wide Shut and Mulholland Drive, among many others, and helped us appreciate the ways in which these films compared and contrasted to the works of Magritte. The film notes pulled us into the enigmatic spaces of these movies:

"For filmmakers like David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, and Jacques Rivette, the 'looking glass' is the cinema itself, and the silver screen is the mirror through which we, the audience, pass."

The series was only one exhibition-related film program of many, including:

• "Torn Curtain: The Two Germanys on Film" (four weeks with LACMA's "The Art of Two Germanys")

• “French Surrealist Film and the American Avant-garde Cinema” (five weeks with "Dali and Film")

• "Freud in Hollywood" (two weeks with "Dali and Film")

• “Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst and Hollywood" (two weeks with "Hearst as Collector")

• “A Film Guide to the America of Diane Arbus” (four weeks with "Diane Arbus")

• "Cigarettes & Alcohol: Eight Films by Hong Sang-soo" (two weeks with "Your Bright Future")

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Special screenings and one-night events were memorable gems of Ian Birnie's Film Program at LACMA (part three of five):

• Rebel Without a Cause (45th anniversary cast reunion)

• The Chelsea Girls (two-screen presentation)

• The Decalogue (Kieslowski's complete series)

• US Postal Service Memorial Stamp (release in conjunction with Charles Chaplin and Bette Davis retrospectives)

• Abel Gance’s Napoleon

• A Tribute to Faye Kanin (writer/Academy president)

• Laszlo and Vilmos (American Society of Cinematographers night with Peter Fonda, Vilmos Zsigmond, Richard Donner and Haskell Wexler)

• An Evening with Ellen Burstyn

• A Valley of the Dolls Weekend (with Barbara Parkins)

• The Manchurian Candidate (with Angela Lansbury and John Frankenheimer)

• Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic ( with a live performance using gels and slides, presented in association with the Getty Museum)

• French Crime Wave (guest Alain Corneau, director)

• Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

• Silent Light (sole Los Angeles screening)

• Being Jewish in France (Los Angeles premiere)

• Susan Sontag Selects 1 & 2: Eight Japanese Classics

• Satantango (renowned 8-hour film by Bela Tarr, sole Los Angeles screening)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grassroots Protest Forces LACMA to Reverse Decision to Cut Film Program

'Popcorn Summit' between Save Film at LACMA and museum director slated for Tuesday, Sept. 1 will address screening program's future

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Aug. 26, 2009 – The month-long grassroots campaign to save a beloved 41-year-old film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) scored a major victory Wednesday, when the museum announced it would continue the program through at least June 2010.

The swift and fierce reaction from film lovers in Los Angeles and around the world swayed LACMA to reverse its July 29 decision to suspend the repertory and foreign film program. Save Film at LACMA, which spearheaded the effort, gathered more than 2,600 signatures to an online petition, garnered "fan" support from more than 3,500 people on Facebook, and urged supporters to convey their concerns directly to the museum. Filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Bertrand Tavernier took up the cause, as did nationally known film critics.

Save Film at LACMA is still meeting with museum director Michael Govan on Tues., Sept. 1, to discuss the details of the film program going forward. The coalition has assembled a panel representing film programming, criticism, scholarship, repertory and distribution talent to meet with Mr. Govan.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Debra Levine, founding member of the grassroots coalition. “Our aim was to reverse LACMA’s decision that hurt our community. We commend Michael Govan on his ability to listen well. We look forward to working with him to ensure that film is permanently showcased as high art at the premiere museum in Los Angeles, the birthplace of the film industry.” Levine is a marketing consultant and arts journalist.

On Wednesday, LACMA announced it had secured $150,000 in the form of grants from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV to fund programming through June. The donors also are providing promotional support for the film series. LACMA also stated its intention to create a new film department in the museum's curatorial sphere and to see more philanthropic support for film.

"It's exciting news," said co-founder Doug Cummings, editor of "But we still have unanswered questions, such as how many screenings will occur, and whether or not repertory and foreign film classics will be the focus. We also want clarification on the future role of Ian Birnie, our highly respected programmer.”

Levine and Cummings will be among those addressing such concerns in the Tuesday meeting at LACMA. Other participants include Brent Simon, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; Margot Gerber, director of publicity and promotions at the American Cinematheque; Shannon Kelley, head of programming for the UCLA Film & Television Archive; three-time Oscar winning costume designer James Acheson; film critic Lael Loewenstein; repertory film executive Jared Sapolin; Michael Schlesinger, a veteran executive of classic film distribution; and Kyle Westphal, the programming chair emeritus for the film society Doc Films.

About Save Film At LACMA
Save Film at LACMA is an open group and anyone can join via Facebook at “Save Film at LACMA” or at: Interested parties can also get updates via Twitter at savefilmlacma. Save Film at LACMA is composed of key individuals volunteering to participate in the film program's improvement and contribute to fund-raising and marketing/publicity efforts to increase the audience size and protect a treasured program from future dismantling.

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

LACMA's Exciting Announcement

"The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced today gifts of $75,000 each from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable, in partnership with Ovation TV, to extend continuous film programming through next summer. In addition, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV have made an in-kind contribution of over $1.5 million to market the film program across their multiple media platforms, both locally and nationally."

More from the Los Angeles Times, here.

What We Must Reinstate

A partial list of Ian Birnie's centennial or career retrospective screenings (part two of five):

• Ingmar Bergman

• Humphrey Bogart

• Charles Boyer

• Robert Bresson

• Lee Chang-dong

• Jean Cocteau

• George Cukor

• Bette Davis

• Brian De Palma

• Arnaud Desplechin

• Rainer Werner Fassbinder

• Cary Grant

• Katharine Hepburn

• Bob Hope

• Hou Hsiao-hsien

• Abbas Kiarostami

• Gregory La Cava

• Fritz Lang

• Carole Lombard

• Anna Magnani

• James Mason

• Joel McCrae

• Kenji Mizoguchi

• F. W. Murnau

• Nagisa Oshima

• Yasujiro Ozu

• Sergei Paradjanov

• Elio Petri

• Richard Quine

• Eric Rohmer

• Robert Siodmak

• Preston Sturges

• Erich von Stroheim

• Edward Yang

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Over the past 13 years, film programmer Ian Birnie has staged memorable in-person retrospectives and tributes to our great artists of the cinema. These were extraordinary moments with living legends of our art form at LACMA. (first of a series of five posts)

Michelangelo Antonioni

Jules Dassin

Olivia DeHavilland

Elmer Bernstein

• Robert Altman

• Blake Edwards

• David Lynch (with Dennis Hopper)

• Satyajit Ray (Shamila Tagore in person)

• Jeanne Moreau

• Walter Mirisch (with Sidney Poitier, Julie Andrews, and Blake Edwards)

• Gus Van Sant

•  Norman Jewison (with Cher, Eva Marie Saint, Faye Dunaway, Haskell Wexler, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman)

Monday, August 24, 2009

LACMA and the Crisis of Repertory Cinema Advocacy

Programming Chair Emeritus of Doc Films K. A. Westphal, at motion within motion, has written the most comprehensive and technically informed article to date regarding the LACMA film crisis and its relation to larger ongoing issues of repertory cinema in this country.

"The future of the film program at LACMA is not at the mercy of individual donors and their heroic deeds. The dismantling of the film program, which requires a truly miniscule portion of the Museum’s operating budget, is not an unfortunate accident but instead an ideological prerogative. . . . Literally every venue capable of screening archival prints with professional standards is essential to the whole delicate infrastructure of repertory cinema. "

Take the time to read the article in its entirety, here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bogdanovich lends us his voice

Longtime film historian, director, writer, actor, producer, and critic Peter Bogdanovich writes Save Film at LACMA:

"Definitely add my name to the list of protesters! This is certainly not the time for the Museum to flake out, when American film culture is at such a low ebb. Now is the time for cultural institutions to step up and be counted, not run away. I vehemently protest."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

LAFCA joins the chorus

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Declare their Support of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Film Program

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association deplores the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s decision to suspend its long-standing and invaluable repertory screening program and to remove its gifted program director, Ian Birnie, from its full-time staff. For more than 40 years, this series has been essential to the interests of Los Angeles’ diverse filmgoing and filmmaking communities, providing a unique, centrally located resource for the study and appreciation of world and Hollywood cinema through the decades. In the international movie capital, it is brutally ironic that this indispensable program should be suspended at a time when the serious study of films and filmmaking—particularly on large screens, in 35mm prints—is threatened everywhere.

We are heartened by the sustained public outcry that has greeted this news, and encourage everyone who cares about film to redouble their efforts to urge LACMA to rescind its dubious decision.

Cinema is an art no less important and meaningful to the public than painting, sculpture and the other arts that the museum holds and displays, and its great artists are no less worthy of our respect and admiration than those working in more traditional media. We also observe that the cost of maintaining LACMA’s film program is quite modest and we agree, as well, with museum director Michael Govan’s stated desire to expand both the program and its funding. LAFCA will do everything in its power to support that effort.

To that end, we urge the formation of a public committee, composed of “Friends of Film at LACMA,” to work with the museum to enhance the funding and the community outreach of LACMA’s film programming, with the aim of establishing an ever more vibrant, vital resource that will benefit both the museum and its public.

As both an art form and an industry, film has been of incalculable value to the economic development of the City of Los Angeles, and to the growth of its culture. In that context, LACMA’s recent decision is not only puzzling, but tragic in its larger implications. It demands close, passionate, urgent and untiring reconsideration.

- The Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Robert Abele
David Ansen
Charles Champlin
Justin Chang
Peter Debruge
Alonso Duralde
David Ehrenstein
Stephen Farber
F.X. Feeney
Scott Foundas
Todd Gilchrist
Mike Goodridge
James Greenberg
Ray Greene
Tim Grierson
Kirk Honeycutt
Mark Keizer
Len Klady
Andy Klein
Robert Koehler
Sheri Linden
Christy Lemire
Emanuel Levy
Lael Loewenstein
Wade Major
Leonard Maltin
Willard Manus
Todd McCarthy
Myron Meisel
Joe Morgenstern
Amy Nicholson
Jean Oppenheimer
H. J. Park
John Powers

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TIME: "It's the museums that got small."

"It would also be a kind of public service to the rest of us for LACMA to keep classic films in the cultural conversation of the city that produces the movies the rest of us have to see," writes Richard Lacayo, "to remind film makers there that it's not all about Transformers and G.I. Joe. Can it really be so hard for a museum with a budget of $74 million last year to cover a loss that averages out to $100,000 a year?"

Lacayo, the art and architecture critic for TIME, has added his voice to the rising local, national, and international chorus calling for LACMA to reverse its decision to cut its weekend film program. "[Y]ou can't fully understand modern art without a working knowledge of the films that were being made at the same time," he asserts, encouraging his readers to sign our petition. You can read his article in full, here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Deadline Hollywood

Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily, which casts an eagle eye on the "business, politics and culture of the infotainment industry," posts an update to our efforts--here.