Missing the Big Picture

The problem isn't the new multiplex coming to Lincoln Road. It's that Miami has no indie film scene. At it's not getting better.

"My God, pay somebody proper remuneration and program the Cosford accordingly!" Chediak says. "I'm sure Capewell is doing his best, but he's just not being paid enough to devote his full attention to programming that theater like it should be. Why spend a quarter of a million dollars, just to flush something down the tubes?"

Indeed the bulk of this past season's programming at the Cosford (it closes for the summer) simply duplicated films shown at the AMC CocoWalk, including treacly Hollywood fare such as Playing by Heart. Capewell freely admits these selections could be viewed as uninspired, but points to fall 1999 bookings of several films that otherwise would bypass Miami: Olivier Assayas's latest, Late August, Early September; After Life; and Leila. Moreover he bristles at Chediak's charges.

"I'm a full-time professor! When am I supposed to do all this stuff?" Capewell asks. "All Nat [Chediak] does is the festival. He watches films year-round, period. If I had the budget he has, I'd market more, too. Not to mention all the free ads he gets from the Herald."

Of course Capewell shouldn't have to worry about these things in addition to his teaching schedule, which is precisely the complaint of many who criticize the Cosford's lack of vision. Unwilling to see itself as serving the entire community of Miami instead of just the university campus (closing for the summer -- the perfect time to catch an air-conditioned flick in Miami -- is indicative of this), it stands as one of the few theaters of its ilk without any operating budget for film. While the theater trumpets its upgrade this summer to a THX sound system, it has yet to obtain a grant for ongoing film programming, raising the question: What's more important, quality films or high-tech gadgetry?

For John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Cinematheque, the formula for survival is simple. "One of the keys to the longevity of the Cinematheque is that we do exclusive runs, that's very important," he explains. "If [another art house] is running Life Is Beautiful, I'm not going to touch it. Maybe I could make money, but it would be a waste. Our focus is always on the community at large. We feel as though we're serving a purpose: to bring in films to the greater Cleveland area which wouldn't come to this region otherwise."

As for marketing, Ewing thinks when it comes to screening art films, nothing is more important than producing a good movie calendar: "The calendar is the main vehicle for reaching audiences, and that's borne out when we get crowds for films we've gotten no other publicity on. We showed a Japanese film called Junk Food, and it got no local press. It had nothing going for it besides being done by an interesting young director. But we've built up an audience for Japanese cinema. People were intrigued by the calendar's description of it and we got a good turnout."

"I just don't have the money," answers Capewell when asked about the Cosford's own skimpy calendar. "Three years ago I printed up this nice, glossy program guide. In the film department [at UM] we have three or four well-published authors on film: big minds from Harvard, places like that. I included literary commentary from them on the films. I lost $2000 on it. If that happens again, I'd be out of business."

Ewing's attitude toward exclusivity points out one of the chief problems with the Absinthe House Cinematheque and the Astor Art Cinema (both in Coral Gables), two locally owned art houses that have fallen back on trying to compete with AMC CocoWalk and Sunset Place for the same audience, and the same films. In fact the Astor ran Life Is Beautiful for more than four months while it screened at CocoWalk. Although Life may have been a solid revenue generator, it begs the question of just what the role of an art house is. In a city with a chronic shortage of screens available for truly adventurous fare, isn't running Life Is Beautiful, as Ewing puts it, "a waste?"

Cesar Hernandez-Canton, co-owner of the Absinthe, disagrees. "The audience that goes to see art films does not want to park, go up a flight of stairs, pay for the ticket, go up another flight of stairs to see the movie, and all within a mall environment." Moreover it isn't as if Hernandez-Canton isn't trying to open exclusives at his theater. He cites two foreign films he recently begged distributors for: the astonishing debut from French director Erick Zonca, The Dreamlife of Angels, and the Argentine psychosexual thriller Open Your Eyes. In both cases he was turned down in favor of AMC sites. "The community thinks we don't give a shit about art films, but they don't know what's going on behind the scenes," he says. "I just refuse to accept the proposition that art films go with malls."

Tom Prassis, vice president of sales for Sony Pictures Classics (the distributor for Dreamlife), is sympathetic to Hernandez-Canton's plight, but insists on the need to follow the bottom line when choosing where to book his company's films. "The Absinthe is a fairly good house and we'll play some of our pictures there," he explains. "But they need to build up an audience."

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