This Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article by A. O. Scott (“The World is Watching. Not Americans.“) lamenting the lack of foreign film appreciation here in the U.S. To quote the article: “The movies are out there, more numerous and various than ever before, but the audience – and therefore box-office returns and the willingness of distributors to risk even relatively small sums on North American rights – seems to be dwindling and scattering.” As much as I like to join in on any doomsday proclamation and wax poetically about the way things used to be, I wonder if things are all that bad.
Until I win the lottery and build my own multiplex and start playing films for myself, I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with what sees screen time in the Twin Cities. However, I do think the Twin Cities is blessed with a small group of smart and scrappy (and, yes, somewhat beleaguered) independent film organizations. At the heart of A. O. Scott’s article are the foreign films topping many critic’s lists for 2006 such as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Pan’s Labyrinth. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu had a two-week stint at the Parkway, and while I’m sure no records were broken for viewership, astute Twin Cities cineastes saw this film. As for Pan’s Labyrinth, look for records to be broken: I stood in line with everyone else this weekend to see this film at the Uptown theater. (When I enquired about their weekend business, the ticket seller said that on opening night they had sold out, which hadn’t happened at the Uptown for three years. Two points for foreign language films!) Once agian, from the article: ” If you have seen Three Times or L’Enfant – to name two other hits of the 2005 Cannes Festival that came and went here in the blink of an eye last year despite choruses of critical praise – then you can perhaps feel the flush of specialness that comes from belonging to an exclusive coterie.” Yes! I do feel that flush! Three Times had four screenings at the Walker in September and L’Enfant played at Landmark’s Edina Theater for a week. Furthermore on the flush of specialness: “All the more if you are familiar with the festival-only titles on some critics’ lists of undistributed movies, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century or Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth.” While I am holding out for a screening of Regis alumn Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, I am feeling a particularly exclusive coterie flush about Colossal Youth that screened at the Walker in October.
No, it’s not all that bad, but the reality of the market is pointed out in an IndieWire article: “So far, in 2006, less than 10 films have crossed the $1 million mark, but here’s an even more startling statistic: Of the more than 100 foreign-language films released so far this year, less than a quarter have broken $100,000 in ticket sales. (In 2005, by comparison, about half of the 128 foreign-language titles released made well over $100,000.)” Wow. If nothing else, this is a plea to support those smart and scappy programers, where ever you are. The exclusive coterie is there…waiting for you.