LACMA Film Series — From Near-Death to Big ‘Upgrade’

The museum's director outlines future plans, goes after more funding.

In jeopardy of being dumped just over a week ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's film program has entered a new phase: How much better can we make it?

 

Sitting around a conference table at the museum on Tuesday, the LACMA's director Michael Govan outlined his plan to maintain and upgrade the film department and weekend screening series.

 

The museum has concluded it will need $5 million to $6 million to keep the film program running past June 2010.

 

"If you factor 5 percent of the interest of an endowment as your income, then $5 million  would generate about $250,000," Barbara Pflaumer, a spokeswoman for LACMA, told TheWrap. "Plus what we would get from ticket sales and other sources of income would give us enough money to fully support the program the way it needs to be supported so we could market it and pay all the costs that are associated with the program."

 

Only last Wednesday, the museum announced it had received pledges totalling $150,000 from two outside organizations – the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which heads the Golden Globes, and Time Warner Cable, each of are donating $75,000 towards the film program. 

 

Time Warner, in association with Ovation TV, also promised to spend more than $1.5 million to market the series on their local and national media platforms.

 

LACMA had faced public outrage after it said on July 29 it planned to cancel its 40-year-old weekend film program because the museum could no longer afford to keep the series going. As grass-roots efforts were forming, director Martin Scorsese wrote an open letter to the museum which ran Aug. 13 in the Los Angeles Times, prompting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's donation.

 

Scorsese actually thought that letter was only going to be seen by Govan and was surprised when it ended up in the Times, Pflaumer said.

 

Last week, Govan and Scorsese met for three hours at the filmmaker's New York home to discuss how the director might be able to recruit donors for the museum's cause. Currently, however, Scorsese is not himself a donor to the program.

 

"I'm not saying he wouldn't be, but at the moment he is not," Pflaumer said. "He's sympathetic and obviously is passionate about film, so he's willing to be helpful. But at this point, we're only in conversation mode." 

 

Meanwhile, Tuesday's 80-minute so-called "popcorn summit" was headed by members of Save Film at LACMA, a group of film aficionados who had organized an effective petition and raised online support to save the series. Members of the Los Angeles film community including L.A. Film Critics Association president Brent Simon and UCLA Film & TV Archive's Shannon Kelley were also in attendance.

 

Govan first thanked the group for its efforts and then went on to explain how the film program had lost nearly $2 million.

 

He also outlined his three main objectives: to find a sustainable philanthropic support platform for the program, to create a larger and more appropriate budget for the program and to create a curatorial program to support the program.

  

Clearly, he scored points.

 

"He recognizes film is an art form and has this grand vision for film, but it's all about money," said Debra Levine, one of the founding members of Save Film at LACMA. "That kind of operation is predicated on him tying down an underpinning of a major art patron or a donor."

 

Levine described the feeling of the meeting as "friendly and cordial," but said the 17 in attendance did more listening to Govan and the museum's "pre-determined case of action" than talking about their own concerns and questions.

 

The programming of the film series will continue to focus on foreign cinema and classic Hollywood flicks. An Alain Resnais retrospective will run through Oct. 17, and following retrospectives will spotlight Alfred Hitchcock's British films and Andrei Tarkovsky.

 

The new program, Govan said, will have curatorial positions for different genres of film. The museum announced after the meeting that it is launching CineClub, which will tack $50 on to existing memberships to help raise money for the new film department. Priority ticketing and admissions to film events will be given to those who sign up for the club.

 

Levine said Save Film at LACMA accomplished its mission when it was announced the film series would live through at least June 2010, but she added that the group will continue to monitor LACMA's planning promises and actions. No further meetings between the two parties have been scheduled.