In the past few years that I’ve been at IU I’ve had the opportunity to see movies on several formats at the IU Cinema. I’ve always been interested in how exactly the IU Cinema gets its hands on such a wide variety of materials. In order to learn a bit more about the process, I decided to talk to the Cinema’s Associate Director, Brittany D. Friesner.
KJ: The IU Cinema has wonderful equipment for screening movies on both film and digital format; and I’ve personally seen many examples of both at the Cinema. How do you decide which movies to show on film and which to screen digitally?
BF: We strive to find the best screening materials possible for any film presented in IU Cinema. The search for materials always begins with the film’s distributor. When contacting the distributor, we will inquire what format or formats are available. Our general hierarchy for preferred screening materials is:
- HD files that can be converted to DCP
Many variants can cause us to sway from this preferred list, but we will almost always default to screening a 35mm print of a film, if there is a print available and it is in good condition.
We tend to find that films for our repertory series have prints or may have prints, but often without a condition report for the print. In those cases, we will likely book the print, but secure back-up screening materials as well.
KJ: These repertory series are things like the City Lights Film Series and Monday Matinee Classics?
BF: Yes, our regular repertory film series include City Lights Film Series, Monday Matinee Classics, and typically also President’s Choice, Midnight Movies, as well as any filmmaker retrospectives. Basically, any film series which includes older, classic films is considered a repertory series.
For the most part, any film release after around 2010/2011 (especially if rights are held by a major distributor) will be available in DCP and not available on 35mm. However, we do occasionally find new releases still available on film, having screened SON OF SAUL on 35mm this past March and looking forward to 35mm screenings of at least two newer titles this fall.
KJ: Any hints about what those two newer titles will be?
BF: Sadly, I am not at liberty to disclose them just yet, since they are partnered screening films. I can offer the films were released in 2009 and 2016 though, and they will be part of the Themester 2017: Diversity • Difference • Otherness film series.
KJ: That sounds like something to look forward to! I know that you sometimes have to shop around to find good copies of movies, so what is the process like to actually get ahold of them?
BF: We always start with IMDb.com to research a film’s rights, unless we know it’s a film that has no distribution (say, a visiting filmmaker’s short films from college). From there, if it’s a distributor we work with often (Magnolia Pictures, IFC Films, Kino Lorber, etc.), we then get in touch directly with the distributor to secure rights and promotional materials—a pretty straightforward process.
The adventure begins on a film where rights have transferred or—on many foreign films—where a film has international distribution rights, but no U.S. rights. These can lead you down all manner of rabbit holes. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being a detective. We often come across filmmakers who aren’t even sure who holds the rights to their films, and, even occasionally, sometimes we might be the ones alerting a distributor to a film they hold the rights for without them having realized they do! It truly is a remarkably complex and sometimes frustrating process. But when you finally track down the rights for a film you’ve been searching for weeks for, it’s incredibly gratifying.
KJ: Are there any examples of movies that were difficult to find? Or, a great find?
BF: Oh, boy. There always seems to be at least one film each semester that seems to be impossible, to the point that sometimes we will consider not showing the film due to difficulties in tracking down rights. We are more often in the position of having secured rights, but not having secured materials. The Elvis in Hollywood series this past spring was a great example. Securing rights was virtually no problem, but finding materials was nearly impossible.
We always start with the film archives with whom we have long-standing relationships: Academy Film Archive, Library of Congress, UCLA Film and Television Archive, Harvard Film Archive, George Eastman House, and IU Libraries Moving Image Archive. If we strike out there, we do our best to find materials to screen that will still allow us to offer the highest quality presentation possible. Sometimes though, the best we can get is not all that great, and we’ve certainly had a few experiences where we were led to believe materials were of higher quality than they were once received and tested.
But the show must go on, and we are dedicated to using those instances as learning opportunities for ourselves, as well as our patrons. It’s also a great example of how precious and rare screening materials have become for some of our most beloved film treasures.
An example… I’m sure it’s likely changed a bit since I last inquired, but with one distributor in the last year, I kept striking out trying to find a Cary Grant comedy to screen with good materials:
IU CINEMA: How about Bringing Up Baby?
IUC: His Girl Friday?
D: Soon, but not yet.
IUC: Arsenic and Old Lace?
D: Nope. How is this possible?
It was incredibly frustrating for both of us!
Then, of course, there are the times when you’ve found materials, but no rights. Or you are at a total dead-end for tracking down either. When we’re at a complete standstill with no clues for tracking down rights or materials, we’ll often search for recent screenings of the film and reach out to programmers at other festivals and cinemas to ask how they secured materials. And then we get to hear the stories of other programmers’ adventures in tracking down something. It’s quite a bonding experience!
KJ: Wow! What about digital material? Are there any additional methods of obtaining digital movie formats?
BF: Yes, we also partner regularly with the IU Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) to create DCPs from HD files we receive from distributors and filmmakers. This partnership has also afforded us the opportunity to create DCPs for major distributors and filmmakers which have then screened at other venues with Indiana University noted as the creator of the materials, creating an ambassadorship of sorts.
KJ: So, the IU Cinema has played an important role in the creation of movies for filmmakers, distributors, and other venues?
BF: Yes, we have done this several times. Most recently, we worked with the AVL to create a DCP for the filmmaker Tim Slade for his documentary film THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY, which was a part of the Spring 2017 Art and a Movie film series. We worked with the AVL to determine hardware and software needs, the filmmaker provided a hard drive and an HD file of the film, and Chris Eller at IU AVL made the magic happen. Now, Tim has this film on DCP that any DCP-compliant theater can screen.
Other filmmakers for whom we have collaborated to create DCPs include Jane Gillooly (SUITCASE OF LOVE AND SHAME) and six films for Werner Herzog, including FITZCARRALDO. We have also worked with AVL to create DCPs for distributors: AMADEUS for Warner Brothers (by way of The Saul Zaentz Company) and the theatrical release of the complete METROPOLIS for Kino Lorber.
KJ: It seems as if these relationships with other venues and programmers are just as important as those you have with archives, distributors, filmmakers, and others?
BF: Yes, the overall process of securing a movie for screening requires a great deal of patience, tenacity, and resourcefulness. And a good measure of what we are able to do is based on the relationships we have built with so many in the industry. Indiana University and IU Cinema have built a reputation for excellence in the research, preservation, and presentation of film in its tradition and modern forms, and we consider it a duty and a privilege to be tasked with stewarding the art form.
More information regarding the IU Cinema’s programming and booking processes can be found on the IU Cinema website.
A PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Katherine studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been fascinated with film since she could remember.