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

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