Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (January 2009)

First of all, a petition to bring back the gone but not forgotten BMA film series has been started. I would say to go here and sign, if you have not done so already. The BMA is offering a free African film festival over two days. Go here for more.

So much has happened on other fronts it is hard to keep up. The Senator theater held a town hall meeting on December 18th, 2008, to announce it was in transition to be turned into a not-for-profit organization, ending any speculation regarding the cryptic messages the theater has been placing in the Sunpapers.

The meeting was all glad tidings and cheer on the part of the presenters. We were wowed with bg names like Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers, and Wynona Judd. We were told that this was going to be our place, a community center and venue kept alive by dedicated volunteers. We were told that we would get to see out children dance on the stage of the Senator theater.

BUT this dream, in order to become a reality, was going to take a lot of time, effort, and, yes, donations. Sign up sheets for work teams were distributed. We were told to write down what we wanted the Senator to do on distributed index cards, and then to share it with the group. During the Q and A, and a Sun Reader Rewards group who had waiting long enough for their free screening of Marley and Me became an increasing presence, I decided to leave without speaking up.

Why? Well, they had no clear answers to any questions posted, just a lot of good intentions and big dreams to sell. And, I knew film at the Senator will soon be, essentially, a thing of the past.

I feel this way based on the orientation of the community in general and the current owner specifically. To them, an occasional screening of a DVD of The Wizard of Oz will be enough to keep film alive at the Senator. That is not enough for me.

I don't care about Tony Bennett. I care about adventurous film (projected from film stock). And, if the Senator starts a film society dedicated to regular screening of such fare, count me in. I can see blockbusters at the Landmark Harbor East. I can watch the Wizard of Oz at my mom's house over the holidays.

Could the Rotunda be a film venue for the place? Possibly, But I could also see the Rotunda being sold and turned into a Starbucks or a church.

In any case, since this meeting, a press conference was called at which it was announced that the Senator's efforts to transition has stalled, and that they needed cash yet again (as I mentioned in my previous post). Now, in the latest development, the city of Baltimore has offered to buy the debt of the Senator if the owner signs over the theater to a non-profit organization. In other words, the Senator has an opportunity to truly become the people's theater. Let's hope the owner can swallow his pride and give up on his quixotic mission. As John Lind, the CEO of Venuetech said, single screen single owner movie theaters "don't work." Even Lyndon B. Johnson couldn't keep one afloat.

A great resource on all of this is the new Google group "Friends of the Senator Theater." I may defer to them until all of this settles down and is sorted out.

In other developments, MICA cancelled the long running film series I was just championing. It is going forward with an unrelated French film series. The series is scheduled for mid-February and looks promising. I will update when there is more on the web about it.

The Charles has messed with many a patron's mind over the holidays, changing its screening schedule several times. During the holidays things were running full bore like in the good ol' days, then the nine o'clock round was cut Monday-Wednesday again, but the two o'clock round was kept. I would say the best thing to do is call, check the paper (as well as the website) before you go, making sure you are tuned in to that exact day when you look at the listings. The theater is still profiting from screeing Oscar contenders, but there is a long, hard winter ahead, so I imagine things will change up once more.

Well, that is about it. Apologies on the delay in posting. Forgive spelling and grammar. I will fix as time allows, as my laptop just went to that great computer graveyard in the sky. Things also got all inaugural and I got really busy. Up next, the films I viewed in January 2009. Until then...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Senator Press Conference Today

This morning, at 10:30 AM, a press conference will be held at the Senator. Entitled "The Senator Theater's Endangered Future" and billed as a "call to action," it appears to be a way for the Senator to make its transition to not-for-profit status more public and to play on the narrative ("Save our Senator") that got so much cash out of people's pockets before.

The economic downturn has clearly hit the Senator hard, as it has hit most local businesses. Since the Senator is already in debt up to its eyeballs, I imagine the loan is coming due soon, and that the creditors are ready to take over before the transition can occur (I thought it was already occurring, based on the town hall meeting, but oh well...).

The question is, will people be willing to throw their money once again at a problem that they were assured was "fixed" by their last donation? Fool me once...

Up next, a criminally overdue update on film exhibition in Baltimore.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Films Viewed (December 2008)

Role Models
Please Vote for Me (excerpt)
Ashes of Time- Redux
Lola Montes
A Christmas Tale
Raging Bull
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2012: Science or Superstition
Love in the Afternoon
The Reader
The Spirit
Baby Mama

The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Tarantula Hill, Video Americain, MICA Brown Center, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 16 features, 1 feature excerpt (13 in theaters)

Notes: This month offered a variety of screening experiences, from the mysteries of December 21st, 2012 on the west side to an otherwise unavailable Victor Fleming film in Falvey Hall. It is nice to have these added screening options in the city.

It is also clearly awards/top ten season, and the Oscar Bait is being trotted out all over town. Since these are films for which there is always provided a great deal of critical verbiage, I shall stay out if it for now.

Despite my strange ambivalence about lists, I overcame it enough to compose a "Top Ten Films I Saw in Theaters in Baltimore in 2008" list for The Mobtown Shank, to be published shortly. I shall quote myself from said list about some films of note from the past month:

"A brutal take on family dysfunction, A Christmas Tale is misleadingly titled. Two and half hours long and very French, the film somehow manages to paint a sympathetic portrait of a group of the some of the meanest and messiest people put on screen in recent memory. Still, the viewing experience was ultimately a rewarding one, akin to getting through a weighty and satisfying tome."

"Shall we call this one the anti-Marley and Me? The Reader is a complex and brutal take on Holocaust guilt, statutory rape, and all kinds of dark Germanic mess. Kate Winslet is brilliant in the film. I am a long-standing fan of hers, so she could read the phone book and I would probably watch, but the praise for her performance is not mine alone. The film offers no easy answers, leaving the viewer in a confused melancholy, stumbling out into a world that seems somehow bleaker. Any film with that kind of power is clearly worth noting."

Otherwise, my usual routine remained unbroken. Up next, a great deal to say about another round of seismic shifts in the film exhibition landscape in Baltimore.