Indie Influencer: Alison Kozberg, Managing Director, Art House Convergence

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Congratulations on your first year as the Managing Director of the Art House Convergence. What are some of the changes we can expect from this year’s convention?

This year’s conference has more programming and sessions than ever before, all of which are organized to encourage innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration. We will be providing tools and strategies essential to opening your community’s first art house and dedicated opportunities for long-established theaters to become even more accessible, inclusive, and creative.

In addition to a wide range of art house cinema specialists, we will also be hosting

speakers from other disciplines, including scholars and professionals from the public sector who will share valuable insight about how theaters can develop financially sustainable strategies for growth and stability while advancing their missions.

This year, the planning team—which includes exhibitors from around the United States, leadership from the Film Festival Alliance, and members of the Alliance for Action—has committed to achieving gender parity among conference presenters. The Art House Convergence recognizes that the vitality of our field depends upon collaboration among all its participants and that we must actively dismantle exclusionary systems and patterns.

During the conference, we will be hosting a series of workshops programmed by Alliance for Action, a working group that strives to reduce and eliminate all forms of inequity in cinema. These workshops will facilitate important conversations about accessibility, community outreach, and the prevention of sexual harassment.

This year we have also taken deliberate steps to ensure that our annual conference is more accessible than ever by expanding our scholarship offerings, offering more volunteer positions, increasing outreach about volunteer opportunities, and debuting the Emerging Leadership Initiative, a program designed to encourage conference attendance among independent cinema’s visionaries of tomorrow.

Can you share some of the highlights from this year’s program?

The breadth of programmatic offerings this year is tremendous. We are hosting panels, workshops, roundtables, screenings, and keynotes so that everyone who attends will have the opportunity to enjoy formal presentations and benefit from collaborative, hands-on learning.

Overall the 2019 conference advances three key goals for the field: 1) innovation, 2) sustainability, and 3) inclusivity. Sessions will encourage participants to try new things, offer tools in service of operational and financial stability, and encourage essential conversations about how theaters can truly create conditions for equitable participation, programming, and employment.

A small selection of presentations from our fantastic lineup includes a presentation by Jax Deluca from the National Endowment for the Arts about succeeding in the public sector, a workshop about how to develop more inclusive and thoughtful outreach and marketing campaigns, a session about effective fund-raising strategies for organizations with tiny staffs, a panel about decolonizing art house programming featuring Miriam Bale of Indie Memphis, Curtis John of the Luminal Theater, and Tracy Rector of Longhouse Media. We will also be hosting a panel on ADA accessibility and a conversation about effectively collaborating with film distributors.

On the one hand, the conference is organized thematically, but it is also structured to meet the needs of art house enthusiasts with various levels of experience. We have programs designed for professionals just getting their start as well as sessions intended to encourage seasoned professionals to continue to think outside the box.

Who will be some of the keynote speakers and award recipients at the event?

I am excited to announce that our opening-night keynote speaker is Butheina Kazim, the co-founder of Cinema Akil, an art house and mobile cinema program in Dubai. Cinema Akil was the first art house in the Gulf and exemplifies the innovation and risk-taking the conference is proud to support. Kazim was a Fulbright scholar of media, culture, and communication at NYU and worked as a project manager in television and radio before piloting this inspiring project. We are delighted to celebrate a woman who is thinking creatively about alternative and art house cinema exhibition. Art House Convergence is based in North America but the resonance of art house cinemas is appreciated globally, and we are thrilled to work closely with partners around the world. Honoring Kazim is a tribute to her work and an important opportunity for exhibitors to deepen their knowledge about the curatorial strategies and economic models being used abroad.

As for the award recipients, we are proud to announce that this year’s Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Amy Heller and Dennis Doros, the co-founders of Milestone Films. Since its founding by Heller and Doros in 1990, Milestone Films has gained an international reputation for releasing classic cinema masterpieces, groundbreaking documentaries, and American independent features. Driven by a commitment to “mess with the canon,” Heller and Doros’s contributions to film preservation and distribution have consistently created opportunities for mission-driven cinemas to innovate and expand their programming. Their clarity of ethical purpose, passion, and tireless commitment to rare cinematic gems have meaningfully impacted the art house community’s vision of film history. It’s an incredible honor to spotlight the important role that preservation, restoration, and distribution play in the art house community.

The recipient of the 2019 Founder’s Award is Taylour Chang, the director of the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Chang is the co-founder of the Alliance for Action and is currently co-chair of the Art House Convergence Annual Conference. Taylour has demonstrated a consistent commitment to making her cinema, and the conference, more accessible and has stewarded the organization through a period of growth and change. She is an exceptional curator and leader who exemplifies a true commitment to community service. We are so pleased to celebrate Taylour’s accomplishments. 

How much has your perspective of AHC changed now that you’re on the organizing side?

As an exhibitor, I had an incredible appreciation for the networking and educational opportunities that Art House Convergence offers. It’s amazing to switch gears and actively sustain a viable national and international community of art house exhibitors. I truly believe that we are stronger together and benefit from collaboration and conversation.

What role do you believe theatrical exhibition plays in the art house community?

Theatrical exhibition and public access to cinema are central to our work and mission. As media viewing becomes increasingly solitary and fragmented, art houses provide opportunities for shared experiences and meaningful exchanges among people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. We present thoughtful film programs dedicated to increasing access to international, independent, and alternative cinemas from around the world while also providing educational opportunities in the service of media literacy, critical viewing practices, and art appreciation. We recognize that cinephiles watch media on a variety of platforms, but we also know that art houses have been an essential part of the North American cultural fabric for nearly a century and have a vital role to play in the future of cinema—as spaces for creativity, collaboration, and community engagement.

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