February 2, 2007

Film Movement: A Closer Look

Starved for Intelligent Film Fare?
Here's a source for consistently good viewing
By Jim Van Maanen

Back in the 1930s and 40s, so we are told, audiences flocked to films whose ads touted the name of the producer: David O. Selznick and Cecil B. De Mille were two prime examples. By the time the 60s and 70s rolled around, the director's name had eclipsed that of the producer. Now, in our DVD age, I have another suggestion. Pay attention to the distributor--and in particular, a company called Film Movement. This rather unusual group came to my notice some years back, after I had rented several of its movies and began to realize that, if the Film Movement (FM) logo/sales pitch was the first thing I saw on screen, I would probably enjoy the film that followed very much. Over time, film after film after film, I surely did. Some more than others, of course, but looking back, there wasn't a single one that I actively disliked.

While I am the sort of movie buff who will take a chance on (nearly) any kind of film, my companion of 17 years is a lot more exacting. Perhaps the highest praise I can give this quirky company is that, when my partner asks me what entertainment is in store for the evening, if I tell him it's from Film Movement, he's willing to take a chance.

The company began releasing films in January 2003. According to Adley Gartenstein, president and a big time movie buff, FM is first and foremost a distributor but also a film club and a source of especially good films for the sophisticated moviegoer. "We want our films to be seen in as many formats possible," he explains. "Obviously via our subscription club, but also theatrically in art houses; for rent on DVD via online companies as well as walk-in video stores; through download; even in libraries." (Gartenstein notes that FM's films are available in over 1,000 public libraries across the country, where screenings are often held. Interestingly, although these are free, FM still picks up a surprising number of new paid memberships after each.)

filmmovement_whoscamus.jpg Because I have consistently found the FM "risk factor" (viewing a movie I know little about) surprisingly low, I asked Gartenstein how he goes about selecting his films. "It definitely has nothing to do with marketing or box-office," he flatly states. "It simply has to be a movie that we really like. We also will only distribute movies that have been accepted in at least one (often several) of the worlds leading festivals -- such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Toronto. We use this as a beginning filter, narrowing the pool down considerably. In addition, we have a curator board--including the Lincoln Center Film Society's Richard Pena--who attends many of the top festivals and makes suggestions to us. And while it is great if we all love the movie in question, once in awhile we will distribute a film because we strongly believe that it deserves to be seen. Forest for the Trees is one recent example--a hard movie to watch, but one we thought deserved the chance to reach an audience. It had won the Special Jury Prize for World Cinema at the 2005 Sundance film festival, yet did not have a distributor.

"We want to bring American audiences a slice of life--a perspective--on a culture that is different," Gartenstein adds, "like the Japanese university pictured in Who's Camus Anyway? or the Iranian legal system shown in Daybreak. And we'd like to take away some of the current focus on excessive doom and gloom, while concentrating more on what it means to be human--all around the world." As of February 2007, FM will have distributed 52 films from over 27 different countries.

How does a small company like this compete with major players such as Fox Searchlight or Miramax? "We can't, so we don't," says Gartenstein. "But when we see a movie we really love snapped up by another distributor, we're just happy to know it will get a release. And because there are so many fine foreign language films shown at Sundance and other festivals that are simply overlooked by most distributors, it's not as though there's any dearth of good product."

filmmovement_willby.jpg One of the joys of the FM experience is that you won't know much about most of the movies in advance. Since they generally have not had a big theatrical release, they haven't been "reviewed" to death, with most of their plot twists pointed out and their surprises spoiled. Each film becomes a fresh experience to savor and form one's own opinion of. And because so many of the films are so worthwhile--intelligent, unusual, humane--the risk factor for the sophisticated movie fan who appreciates foreign- as well as English-language films is about as minimal as one is likely to encounter.

As a New Yorker with limited space and budget, I prefer renting to ownership (An FM membership, a sort of movie-of-the-month-club that nets you a new film which you get to keep twelve times yearly, costs $15 per month.) I've taken to accessing the FM site, checking the latest titles, and then adding those available to my queue. Greencine members can also click this link to access the current list of FM titles.

See next entry for reviews of individual FM titles >>

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Posted by cphillips at February 2, 2007 1:05 PM

If you like the Film Movement movie club you should really check out the FilmCrave movie club - http://www.filmcrave.com/club_sign_up.php. Similar concept except more mainstream (but you can pick a club "genre").

Posted by: Joshua at February 8, 2010 7:23 AM
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