The Art House Convergence conference annually brings together hundreds of independent theater owners and supporters of arthouse cinema during the days preceding the Sundance Film Festival. When the organizers invited James Schamus to deliver the keynote address at their 2016 gathering, it was a commission he did not relish. The expected argument of such speeches is pretty much set in stone these days: cinema, understood primarily as feature films meant initially for theatrical exhibition, is under attack, and the keynote speaker's task is to rally the troops in its defense, soliciting applause for recent victories on the battlefield, and railing against the encroachments of the enemies of film, in particular the digital streaming services whose assaults on the sanctity of the theatrical viewing experience, and thus on the aesthetic object known as the theatrical film, grow ever more ferocious with each passing year. Schamus took on the task of delivering that speech, and then transforming it into this article for FQ. He concludes with a rousing plea to all regarding what he terms, “This vicious spiral of longer movies, higher costs and higher ticket prices,” that can only spell disaster for the supporter of truly independent American cinema. Schamus urges readers to stand with him (and all who love the genuine American film experience), to advocate for vibrant, varied, open-ended, hybrid, serial and ongoing open storytelling and entertainment.
The Hundred-Year-Old Question: Can American Cinema Be Saved?
James Schamus is an award-winning screenwriter (The Ice Storm, Ang Lee, 1997), producer (Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee, 2005), and former CEO of Focus Features. His directorial debut, Indignation, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Roadside Attractions. Recent work from Schamus's production company, Symbolic Exchange, includes Kitty Green's Casting JonBenet (2017) and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's A Prayer Before Dawn (2017). Schamus is also Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University, where he teaches film history and theory.
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James Schamus; The Hundred-Year-Old Question: Can American Cinema Be Saved?. Film Quarterly 1 March 2018; 71 (3): 37–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2018.71.3.37
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