In dozens of cities from coast to coast, film
societies have emerged as a way for local residents to support and
appreciate the art of cinema. Most started out as small groups of
film buffs, meeting once a month to watch and discuss a movie. Today
they have developed into well-organized non-profit institutions
that not only screen movies, but host film festivals, provide grants
to moviemakers and even offer production facilities to independent
film companies and large studios alike.
One of the most successful of these is the Austin
Film Society, founded in 1985 by director Richard Linklater (Slacker)
and friends as a way to watch and discuss films that weren’t being
distributed to the general public. “It was about the love of film-appreciating
film the way it was meant to be seen,” says Austin Film Society
Executive Director Rebecca Campbell. Since those early days, the
organization has grown to 1,300 members and provides numerous programs
Each year the Society screens more than 150 films,
seen by more than 35,000 people in theaters across the city. These
include its “Free Cinema” series, plus genre and retrospective screenings.
Past subjects have included “Black Image in American Cinema,” “San
Francisco Super-8 Film Happening” and “Che Bella: Italy in the ’60s.”
The Society also promotes the Texas Documentary Tour, where a visiting
moviemaker discusses his/her film in several cities throughout the
state, as well as movie premieres with personal appearances from
established directors like Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino,
Ron Howard, Robert Rodriguez and others.
|Top to Bottom: Director Jean-Jacques Beineix
meets a fan at a Seattle tribute; Alan Rudolph, Darryl Macdonald
and Beineix catch up; Seattle Film Office’s Donna James
chats with director, TV personality and Golden Space Needle
recipient Jeff Probst.
But screenings are just one of many programs of the
Austin Film Society. It also provides grants through the Texas Filmmakers’
Production Fund to emerging moviemakers whose work shows promise.
Since 1996, $280,000 has been awarded to over 100 moviemakers. In
addition, the organization serves as a fiscal sponsor for independent,
non-profit Texas productions, offers consulting services to individual
moviemakers, publishes a bimonthly journal and trains dozen of interns
each year. “The internship program is designed to open doors to
filmmaking for people of the community,” says Campbell.
But perhaps the Austin Film Society’s most successful
venture is one of its newest: Austin Studios, created in 2000. “It’s
a partnership between the city of Austin and the Austin Film Society,”
says Studio Director Suzanne Quinn. The studio’s facilities were
once an airport, but now host an 8,000 square foot production office
and 96,000 square feet of production space in four former airplane
hangars. “Seven feature films have been shot at the studio (so far).
Five Hollywood films and two indies,” continues Quinn. Budgets have
ranged from $5,000 to $50 million, and include Castle Rock’s Miss
Congeniality, Sony’s The New Guy and Disney’s The
The studio’s emergence has allowed Austin to develop
its local film industry. Quinn notes that while the city has always
been a great place to shoot, it was lacking facilities. “Austin
has varied terrain, lakes and rivers, hill country. But it was too
widespread and parking was a hassle,” she says, adding, “Austin
is fun to work in. It’s the live music capital of the world and
has great Mexican food and barbecue.”
Local talents like Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge
have managed to develop a solid crew base from their work in the
city. “The crews have a great reputation for being skilled and experienced,
and the unions are laid back,” says Quinn. Austin Studios also offers
on-site vendors for services such as cranes and dollies.
In 1999, the Austin Film Society earned the Directors
Guild of America’s first DGA Honors Award in recognition of its
contributions to regional film culture and production. The Society
hands out its own mark of recognition at its annual Texas Film Hall
of Fame Gala that honors actors, writers, musicians and producers
from Texas. This year’s inductees included actress Cyd Charisse,
director Terrence Malick and actor/songwriter Willie Nelson.
In the Northwest, Cinema Seattle was formed in 1990
to formalize the transformation of the Seattle International Film
Festival into a year-round institution presenting film programs
of exceptional merit and diversity. “It became the organizational
mother ship of the festival at that time,” says Cinema Seattle Director
Darryl Macdonald, “but added many other programs over the next five
years and continues to morph and grow.”
The aim of the group is simple: to enrich the cultural
landscape of the Pacific Northwest through film and moviemaking
programs. “One specific goal we are currently working on is to build
a facility in Seattle which would encompass theaters, a gallery
and a film research library,” continues Macdonald.
Cinema Seattle presents the SIFF, now in its 26th
year, along with the smaller Women in Cinema Festival. This particular
festival, founded in 1996, provides a forum for and celebration
of the accomplishments of women directors in contemporary cinema.
Dozens of features, documentaries and shorts are offered, as well
as panel discussions on issues affecting women both behind and in
front of the camera.
|Actors Jill Hennessy; Sean Penn, Robin Wright
Penn and Seymour Cassell show their support of the Denver International
Film Festival; Denver Mayor Wellington Webb presents Peter Bogdanovich
with the Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Other programs offered by Cinema Seattle include the
Filmmakers Forum, the quarterly journal ReelNews and Talking
Pictures, an educational program in which film critics, industry
folk and pop culture commentators gather for provocative discussions
on the subject of cinema. These talks follow selected sneak previews,
just-released movies and special film series that showcase noted
directors, classic movies and popular genres and themes.
The emphasis of Cinema Seattle is on film appreciation
through screenings, discussions and panels. But Macdonald notes,
“We do actively promote and support film production in Seattle,
and have our own ‘Fly Filmmaking’ and ‘Screenwriters Salon’ mentoring
programs.” At Fly Filmmaking, three established directors cast,
shoot, edit, score and present a film in just one week. The results
are then shown to festivalgoers. Past Fly Filmmakers include Miguel
Arteta (Chuck and Buck) and Julia Sweeney (God Said ‘Ha’).
The Screenwriters Salon offers performed readings, workshops and
panels where both novice and experienced writers can share knowledge
and enjoy screenplays presented in a staged reading format.
A new section of the SIFF was started last year called
Shooting In Seattle. “It focuses strictly on giving a heightened
profile to Seattle-made films, presenting shorts, features and documentaries,
along with a panel discussion and major reception,” says Macdonald.
“I also feel that one of the points of SIFF paying to bring over
300 filmmakers, producers and industry folks to the festival each
year is to turn them on to utilizing Seattle and Washington State’s
resources, and to come back and make a film here.” He adds, “We
work together with the city and state film offices and most of the
production resource companies in Seattle to promote this end, hosting
such events as our annual Filmmaker’s Cruise and using our hospitality
office at the festival to promote regional talent and resources.”
Founded in 1978, the Denver Film Society, is dedicated
to the celebration and cultivation of film as art, offering year-round
cinematic programming and special events to the community. Their
flagship program is the 10-day Denver International Film Festival,
staged every October, which showcases over 100 films from around
The Film Society also offers a number of other smaller
festivals throughout the year, including the Denver Pan-African
Film Festival, the Denver Jewish Film Festival and the Rocky Mountain
Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Film-related programs include the
annual fundraising AMPAS-sanctioned Party With Oscar, and the outdoor
film series, Film On The Rocks, at Red Rocks Amphitheater. “Ten
thousand people can see a band and a movie in a beautiful setting,”
says Britta Erickson, the Society’s Director of Media and Industry
|Stan Brakhage speaks to a group of aspiring
moviemakers during his October 2000 visit to Cincinnati.
The Denver Film Society gets a lot of government and
city support. “We’re considered the authoritative film entity in
Colorado,” continues Erickson. And while the primary goal of the
organization is not to bring moviemaking to Denver, Erickson adds,
“We do support [local moviemakers] and have local screenings to
showcase film in Denver.”
Soon, the Denver Film Society will move into its
permanent home at the Starz Encore Film Center, a new $9 million,
state-of-the-art film center that will have four theaters, a
screening room, an art gallery and an editing facility.
They will also offer educational programs for students of all ages
in partnership with the University of Colorado at Denver’s College
of Arts & Media.
The Cincinnati Film Society was founded 22 years
ago to encourage the appreciation of film as an art form and to
bring together film devotees to learn about and discuss film. “We
try to program stuff you can’t see in a multiplex,” says spokesperson
Jason Gargano. These include independent films, foreign films, classics
and films of special interest to African Americans, women, children,
gays and others. The Society also fosters moviemaking projects and
provides technical assistance to moviemakers.
The organization also features personal appearances
from moviemakers with their films. These have included Michael Moore
with Roger and Me, John Sayles, who showed and discussed
Matewan and Gregory Nava with his Oscar-winning El Norte.
The Society also co-sponsors films with other arts
groups, including the Cincinnati Jewish Federation, the Contemporary
Arts Center, the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission,
the Cincinnati Art Museum and the University of Cincinnati Film
In addition to screenings, the organization features
a few programs. One is called ‘Underneath Cincinnati,’ in which
local moviemakers contribute to a one-night festival, showing 15
to 20 short films. “We plan to do this three or four times a year,”
says Gargano. Another program, ‘Lights, Camera, Action,’ is geared
toward helping grade-school kids make movies.
The Cincinnati Film Society is funded in part by grants
from the Ohio Arts Council, the Cincinnati Institute for Fine Arts
and the City of Cincinnati.
No matter what city you live in, seeing a diverse
selection of movies on the big screen is easier now than ever. For
a complete listing of showtimes, contact your nearest film society.