The Art House Experience

By Barbara Twist, Managing Director, Art House Convergence

The 2017 Art House Convergence celebrated the 10th anniversary of the organization with our biggest conference yet. We welcomed 610 attendees from 47 states and eight countries, including cinemas, film festivals, bookers, film distributors, and vendors. The feeling at the conference was both triumphant and engaged. As a community, we have weathered everything from the economic burden of the digital transition to the assault on theatrical windows, all the while rooting ourselves even more deeply in our communities through audience development and place making. Art houses are spaces of expression, creativity, and action. It is up to us to champion independent filmmakers and movies that matter. This year’s speakers and sessions recognized our unique position to be spaces of community engagement through the films we show and the audiences we seek.

The Art House Convergence welcomed an incredible slate of keynote speakers who brought fresh perspectives to independent exhibition and challenged us to do better. James Schamus (former CEO of Focus Features) joined us for an amusing, and incredibly timely, reflection on the state of the industry (spoiler: the movie industry has been “dying” since it was born). Cheryl Dunye (director of The Watermelon Woman) sat down for a “living room conversation” with Jennifer Morris (programmer, The Roxy Theater) on everything from her observations of the moviegoing habits of 20-somethings to the myriad challenges she faces in the independent-filmmaking world.

In honor of the 10th anniversary we announced two new annual awards: the Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award and the Russell B. Collins Founder’s Award. The inaugural recipient of the Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award was Ira Deutchman, a prominent indie film producer and distribution executive whose contributions to the independent-filmmaking community have been significant and long-lasting. The Russell B. Collins Founder’s Award was a surprise to its inaugural recipient, Russ Collins, who founded the Art House Convergence.

As we look to the rest of 2017, we have several important events on the calendar. We will meet in Philadelphia June 21–22 for our regional seminar, hosted by the Ambler Theater and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. The regional seminars are a great way to be introduced to the art house community or check in with colleagues from other organizations. We will also celebrate our second annual Art House Theater Day on Sunday, September 24, 2017. Inspired by similar one-day celebrations like Record Store Day, Art House Theater Day was started to celebrate independent cinemas and all of the people, from the projectionists to the audiences, who make our cinemas such marvelous places to watch movies.

We started out to increase the quantity and quality of art house cinemas in North America, but along the way we’ve built a stronger moviegoing audience, become economic anchors in our local communities, and demanded that our voices be heard on industry-wide issues. We even discovered that the healthiest communities, in terms of overall cinema attendance, are communities that have independent art house cinemas and solidly performing commercial multiplexes. Art houses and commercial theaters complement (more than they compete with) each other and generally amplify local cinema attendance. Our 10 years of box office success and theater growth show that the art house community is more than just a group of individual theaters—we are a robust cinema exhibition movement.

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