A Golden Age for Art Houses? In an Era of Isolation, the Art-House Cinema is a Sacred Place, says Tim League

I think we are in a golden age for art-house cinemas.

When 70 percent of Americans have a movie screen in their pocket, adoption of VR headsets is on the rise, and content is viewed ever increasingly in isolation, the places that create community with actual interpersonal communication are all the more sacred—and there’s a very real public yearning for those places.

The traditional multiplex cinema experience has become homogenized and commoditized, so art-house theaters stand out from the pack. I have had the privilege of attending Arthouse Convergence, the annual gathering of independent art-house cinemas, for the past five years. I’m proud to report that this collective of theaters is producing the best film experiences on the planet, building strong local film communities and educating the next generation of cinephiles. In coming years I believe art-house cinemas will not only survive, but thrive.

The Tejon Theater in Bakersfield, California was the Leagues’ first theater, opened in 1994. They moved to Austin in 1997 to open the Alamo Drafthouse Theater Credit: Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The Tejon Theater in Bakersfield, California was the Leagues’ first theater, opened in 1994. They moved to Austin in 1997 to open the Alamo Drafthouse Theater. Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

What’s the purpose of cinema? I’ve been an exhibitor for 20-some years and my view since the beginning has been that cinema exists to support a director’s vision and bring his or her creative work to as many people as possible. So directors don’t make lightly the decision to shoot on and project from film. Those choosing to shoot on and project from film have a very specific experience in mind for their eventual audience, and that vision should be understood and respected by film fans.

Digital filmmakers say that they can get digital to look just like film by utilizing various post-production filters and effects. But the best way to make your movie look “just like film”… is to shoot on film. There is an inherent clarity, organic texture and depth of color that comes from shooting on film. I, personally, love it.

I watch plenty of content at home. I have kids, and that keeps me away from the cinema more evenings than I like. So I’ve begun to watch more content on streaming services. I love spending time with the family at home, but I also love those nights when my wife, Karrie, and I can get out of the house and go to the cinema. There is no battle between streaming and the cinema; they coexist nicely. No matter how good your streaming options are at home, every once in a while you crave an evening out of the house. Bowling is really more of a direct competitor to cinema than streaming. As long as cinema continues to be a great “out of the house” experience, this industry will be just fine. MM

Tim League is the founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

This article appeared in MovieMaker’s Summer 2016 issue. League photograph by Annie Ray.

1 Comment

  1. Ronald A Merk

    September 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I’ve been in the film production and distribution business since 1967, and I’ve seen all the “revolutions” that were supposed to make it easier (especially for independent filmmakers) to create films, get them distributed and make back production costs and even a profit, that unholy idea. I’ve seen the rise and fall of the mom and pop art houses, now replaced with larger concerns that own a string of art houses. Everyone makes money except the filmmakers in the current marketplace. They are told that a theatrical release will insure decent sales in other media. I think that’s a promise that’s hard to back up with statistics. Theatres might be a holy place for Tim League, because he owns them, and get’s paid first. And yes, it’s great to see one’s film on a big screen in a room full of real people. But what happens after that? No one can really say for sure. The business has fundamentally changed. There is no “middle” where filmmakers can make a living. We are losing the professional class of filmmakers to a new breed of…..well….I’m not sure what to call them. Most are happy just to get attention from someone….anyone. They believe that exposure is just as good as a royalty payment. It’s a brave new world. Okay, it’s a stupid new world. If you want to make movies, make a living, and go on to the next movie, there is no model that works for the indie filmmaker. I challenge anyone to provide a solid example, with statistics and figures. When I see that, and if I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

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