DIFF Boosts Sales at Independent Theaters Despite Downturn

April 29, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Aida Ahmed
aahmed@smu.edu

Twenty-five movies in seven days.

That’s how many films Patsy Cartwright saw at this year’s Dallas International Film Festival. While curious onlookers surrounded the ticket table on the closing day of the festival at the Studio Movie Grill in Dallas, Cartwright was checking off the 26th movie for the week, Thunder Soul, on her list of must-sees of the annual festival.

“It makes us want to see more films, it’s so exciting,” Cartwright said. “I like film art and art documentary film- the other things are just advertising and blockbusters.”

Cartwright isn’t just obsessed with movies, she lives for them. Since she has no cable or television in her house, she goes to the movie theater every weekend and only frequents the Angelika Film Center and The Magnolia for independent films.

“They’re the only good films,” Cartwright said. “This is the real stuff; a true spectrum of feeling and knowledge.”

A weak economy is said to be great for the movie business because movies serve as cheap entertainment. But in a time when everyone is watching where they spend their dollar, independent film theaters have had to count on regulars like Patsy Cartwright to keep coming back. And festivals like DIFF bring in business no matter the economic climate.

Omar Bacallao has worked at the Angelika Film Center for three years and as manager he says festivals really keep the theater alive.

“It definitely brings awareness of the Angelika,” Bacallao said. “It’s a different experience. They tend to know the Angelika and come back more and more.”
Still, Bacallao has seen that the economy has upset business.

“I have a lot more disgruntled customers because of ticket prices and concession prices going up,” Bacallao said. “All theaters went from $8 to $10, that’s just the economy.”

According to Box Office Mojo, a Web site that tracks box-office revenue, there was a decrease in ticket sales for 2007 and 2008, but in 2009 theaters surprisingly saw a 5.3 percent increase.

This all comes with a constant increase in ticket prices. The average ticket price in 2007 was $6.88. In 2010 it’s $7.61. And at theaters like the Angelika, is has risen to $10.

“It differs. It’s fast sometimes, then slow,” said Bacallao. “Independent movies people have heard about or made by a famous director will attract more people.”

Assistant professor of cinema-television at Southern Methodist University, Pamela Elder, says that even during the Great Depression people found money to go to the movies but to compare regular theaters to ones like the Angelika is wrong.

“They didn’t start out in the same place so you can’t really compare them,” Elder said. “They’re not red carpet, blockbuster movies. They are more concerned with the artistry of the film and not the money.”

But even independent film theaters need constant revenue to stay afloat. Elder says they are known by their brand and attract people who want their product.

Lancaster resident Suzi Weaver and her husband come to Dallas just to catch documentaries at the Angelika. Weaver sips on a soda in the Angelika Café while waiting for her husband. She likes the atmosphere of the venue and says it’s a nice change from the small town she’s used to.

“We only have to pay $2.50 for a movie in Lancaster, but it’s gotta be special for us to come to the Angelika and spend that,” Weaver said. “I would not come here to see a first run movie I could see at home.”

Making the trip to Dallas through traffic is worth it because she says the theater is the only place where she can see documentaries, like the movie she just bought tickets to see, “Sweet Grass.”

Even with dedicated movie goers like Weaver, Bacallao says his theater’s major competitor is the AMC Theater at NorthPark Center.

The Angelika plays independent films at a ratio of six to two, compared to mainstream flicks, but the Angelika crowd has always been very intimate. The Angelika staff is mixed with former Magnolia workers, and for them, it’s important to maintain a relationship with the movie goers that really come out for the independent films.

“The staff is held to a lot higher standard and we know almost all the regulars now,” Bacallao said. “We’re big on customer service and show a little more favor to our loyal customers to show our loyalty to them.”

The Angelika Film Center is devoted to independent and specialty film. Built in 2001, the Angelika houses eight screens and is located at the now booming Mockingbird Station. It doesn’t look like an average theater. Right off the DART and surrounded by fairly new shops and restaurants, the Angelika gives off the vibe of a film culture hub.

The theater features stadium designed seating, digital sound and wall-to-wall screens. They also differ from other theaters because they serve alcoholic beverages at the café in the lounge area. The film center also strives to be a part of the Dallas arts community by building awareness for independent films and filmmakers by hosting film discussion groups.

Everything they do is intimate, except for the festivals.

The annual festivals boost revenue and set the theater apart from their mainstream competitors.

Michael Cain, Chairman of the Board of the Dallas Film Society, said that the annual Dallas International Film Festival complements the area’s independent theaters.

“I think the theaters are doing well without us,” Cain said. “We just bring in an influx of folks over 11 days who take an interest in independent films.”

So when planning for the DIFF, Cain said the Dallas Film Society had many good reasons to pick the Angelika Film Center as one of the venues.

“For one, they have great production, sound and a sense of unity,” Cain said. “They also have their own unique audiences, art house audiences, that are perfect to get the word out to.”

The Dallas Film Society created the Dallas International Film Festival in 2006 to celebrate film and filmmakers, as well as to educate the community on the role of film. In the first three years, over 110,000 people attended the festival for over 600 screenings and events.

The 2010 DIFF offered 159 films from 25 countries, including shorts and features. Both festivals bring in new well-known actors and filmmakers, as well as give student filmmakers a chance on the big screen.

The festival and the Angelika seem to go hand in hand.

“People have recognized us as a higher class theater and a higher event promoter,” Bacallao said. “Most people who come to the festival have a hard time finding the Angelika, but once they come they find themselves being regulars.”

That’s how Glenn Oswald, who frequents Dallas film festivals, became an Angelika fan.

The devout movie buff has come to the festival since its start and was also first in line at the DIFF on closing night to see the documentary feature Thunder Soul.

“I’m supporting the film arts and the festival is a way to see film screenings before they open,” Oswald said. “There’s an opportunity to see films that aren’t otherwise commercially available. The everyday filmgoer is not the target audience.”

Arts Blog: AFI Dallas Film Festival Starts this Week

March 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Last Wednesday, March 18, AFI Director of Press and Publicity John Wildman spoke to the journalism department’s Arts Beat class about what all AFI Dallas International Film Festival has to offer…

…which is a lot.

Want to see a Zooey Deschanel movie four months before it premieres? See “500 Days of Summer” Sunday at 3:30 pm. Want to hear the filmmakers from some of these films talk about real issues as opposed to just the making of their particular movie? Go to an educational panel. Want to see Adrien Brody in person? That’s possible, too.

The film festival will include screenings of over 180 films, including feature films, classics, documentaries and shorts. The filmmakers and actors for some of these films will walk down the red carpets before the night screenings.

The film festival will also have educational panels free to the public. The filmmakers will talk about the subject in the films from an evaluation of women and men and sex in the cinema to whether real life should be protected from film.

SMU students should take advantage of being in Dallas and being able to attend this film festival. You can attend screenings of movies they might not have the chance to see otherwise or learn more about the subjects of the films. You might even meet the filmmakers and actors.

The films will be held at Magnolia and North Park AMC theaters. To order tickets or see schedules of the films and panels, just check out AFI Dallas’s Website

Posted by Rachael Morgan