Indie Focus: Art House Convergence 2018



The Art House Convergence will be sold out this year with over 600 delegates attending. More than 200 different independent exhibitors from all over North America and a few European art house colleagues will be joining us at this year’s conference. There will be theaters from big cities and rural villages, college towns and working-class neighborhoods, single screen, two-screen, three-screen, even art houses with seven and eight screens, plus a couple of national cinema chains. But overwhelmingly, Art House Convergence delegates will represent community-based, mission-driven movie theater operations that show mostly independent American, foreign-language, documentary, and classic films for the artistic, cultural, and economic benefit of their community’s downtown or urban neighborhoods.


The current state of the art house is strong. The Art House Convergence encourages a nontraditional cinema exhibition approach. We believe that every community can support a local art house if a passionate group of people desire to see art house fare in their community. If a small group of passionate people desire to have a movie theater that celebrates cinema art and serves as a community gathering place, working together, citizens can operate a successful cinema—a cinema-centric institution that teaches and promotes the value and virtues of moving-image storytelling. It is a local institution that is sustainable though ticket sales, concession sales and other earned revenue, and supported additionally by membership, and if operated in a passionate and highly ethical manner, additional support might come from philanthropic community support. This community-based, mission-driven model is growing the number and impact of art house cinemas in North America. This is clearly evident by the rapid growth of the Art House Convergence. In a decade, attendance at the Art House Convergence has gone from 75 delegates to over 600. The number of passionate people who want to operate a successful art house in their local community continues to grow. Contrary to popular opinion, art houses are growing and finding new audiences in communities large and small.


The Art House Convergence wants to encourage great cinema and dynamic organizational impact in communities. Topics of discussion at this year’s conference include: a multi-segment program called “Harassment and Intimidation Have No Place in the Art House,” a timely and important topic for art houses and society in general. An issue that is essential now and forever will be discussed at “Building a Future: Developing a Love of Cinema among Children.” Aaron Dworkin, MacArthur “Genius” and founder of the Sphinx Organization, will lead a seminar on “Diversity and Inclusion at the Art House” and give a keynote address. Michael Barker of SPC will also give a keynote address. A film journalism panel will discuss the changed and changing dynamic of film criticism in a social media / diminished newspaper era. “Harnessing Philanthropy to Drive Community Impact” will focus on the nonprofit art house as a community center for change, education, and vitality. A timely session on “Assistive Technology: Installation, Troubleshooting, and Community Outreach” will address the new ADA requirements for cinemas. “Demystifying Memberships” will discuss how to build strong patron relationships. These are just a few of the important and timely education sessions that are core to the Art House Convergence. We also have fun dinners, parties, and networking events—we work hard and play well!


2017 box office results were mixed for art houses, like it was for our commercial cinema cousins. 2017 got off to a great start with many quality award-worthy films, like Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Similar to the commercial cinema, the second and third quarters were rough. I think the change in national political leadership was confusing for movie audiences who ended up spending a disproportionate amount of time and attention watching news and information programs to better understand our new national and international goals and priorities. Artistically and commercially, films that filmmakers and producers might have assumed to be a “good bet” in terms of audience interest before the 2016 elections did not end up resonating with a suddenly and newly evolving political environment. As recently observed by Sundance Film Festival program director Trevor Groth, “I think the artists and the storytellers and the filmmakers have always been responsive and out in front of the issues facing our times.” That being said, John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, added, “It typically takes filmmakers about two years to react to current events.” The positive box office results for films like Lady Bird and Loving Vincent might indicate an art house market hungry for the new avalanche of art house–friendly, “award-worthy” films released in the fourth quarter.


Enhanced concessions, including alcohol, is a strong trend among art houses. Education programs are an ongoing and ever-growing part of audience development for art houses. Engaging adult audiences with film appreciation, film history, and genre study programs is very effective in developing appreciation and audience loyalty at art houses. Filmmaking classes for primary school, middle school, and high school students is similarly effective at engaging kids and their parents with the local art house. Education programs create film lovers and film lovers love films at both the art house and commercial cinema. I believe the best thing for a commercial cinema operator is having a quality art house in the market. Art houses create passionate cinema-goers who actively attend both commercial and art house films.


Art houses produce outstanding grosses for event cinema. Since art houses are organized around the artistic nature of cinema, the cultural programs of event cinema such as the Metropolitan Opera, Broadway shows, National Theater Live, Royal Shakespeare Company, classical and modern dance, classic cinema—–the bread and butter of event cinema—–are perfectly suited for art houses.


The Art House Convergence has a strong relationship with Europa Cinema, the European advocate for independent cinemas. European innovations in audience engagement, especially for youth, are being adopted by North American art houses. I just returned from the Europa Cinema Network Conference in Bucharest, Romania, and know that European art houses have created some very innovative traveling cinemas for small towns and dynamic outdoor screening and summer festivals. We also learned that event cinema is bigger in Europe than it is in the U.S.


Over 50 distributors help sponsor the Art House Convergence. Distributors have been long-time sponsors of the conference. Boston Light & Sound is another founding sponsor and a tremendous professional resource. In the early years of the Art House Convergence, equipment manufacturers, integrators, and installers were big sponsors. Continuing that tradition, this year Samsung has stepped up in a big way. In recent years, ticketing companies, led by long-time sponsor Agile Ticketing Solutions, have been tremendous sponsors. FilmStruck is a new and much welcomed sponsor. Our top sponsor for many years, and also a founding sponsor, is Spotlight Cinema Networks.

Spotlight Cinema Networks has been, and continues to be, a crucial sponsor of the Art House Convergence. From their support as a founding sponsor to the annual Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award and their national art house PSA program, Spotlight has set the protocol for how cinemas and businesses in the art house community can collaborate to create a better experience for our art house patrons. Spotlight Cinema Networks has been a leader in the growth of the AHC and the art house community. It is because of their dedication that we are proud to introduce Spotlight Cinema Networks as our Leadership Sponsor of this year’s 2018 Art House Convergence conference—a top-tier sponsorship that exemplifies strong leadership and support in the art house community.


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