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$150,000 pledged to save LACMA film program [Update]

August 26, 2009 |  5:05 pm


Responding to public outcry over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's decision to end its 40-year-old weekend film program, two outside organizations have stepped forward to pledge a total of $150,000 in the fight to save the screening series.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which organizes the annual Golden Globe Awards, and Time Warner Cable, in association with Ovation TV, have each agreed to put up $75,000 toward the LACMA film program, which had been scheduled to close in October.

In addition, Time Warner Cable and Ovation said that they will spend more than $1.5 million to market the film program across their multiple media platforms, both locally and nationally. 

LACMA spokeswoman Barbara Pflaumer told The Times that as a result of the new money, the weekend film program will now run at least through the end of the fiscal year in June

2010. She added that the museum will continue to seek additional donors and patrons in support of the film program.

In a statement, LACMA Director Michael Govan said the museum is "grateful to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable, and Ovation TV,  for expressing their tangible support for the art of film at LACMA, and we’re very pleased that we can keep film rolling while we build for the future."

Earlier this month, Govan told The Times that unsolicited donors had begun stepping forward in support of the weekend film series, but he wouldn't say how much money was under discussion. At the time, Govan said that $5 million would be enough to endow a basic film program.

The museum also announced Wednesday that it intends to create a film department within its curatorial ranks that will be charged with "thinking about the history and future of film as art as well as film's increasing importance in the larger narrative of art history."

Pflaumer declined to discuss the status of Ian Birnie, whose position as head of the museum's film department was terminated earlier this year.  "His role is still in flux," she said. "It's a private matter between us and him, and we can't comment on that." Birnie, who led the program for close to 13 years, now carries the official title of part-time consulting curator for the film department. 

Ovation TV said it will help LACMA produce commercials that will air on the arts channel and on other stations carried by Time Warner Cable. The commercials will be geared toward raising awareness of the film program and will be designed to direct people to LACMA's website.

"Pure money does not solve these problems," said Charles Segars, chief executive of Ovation TV. "These days you need a partnership across different media platforms to get the word out."

In the past, Ovation has joined with Time Warner to co-sponsor LACMA's Friday night jazz series as well as other cultural events around Los Angeles.

Philip Berk, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., said his organization decided to donate money after members read Martin Scorsese's open letter to the museum, which ran Aug. 13 in the Times, protesting the decision to cut the film series.

"After Scorsese came into the picture, that's when our membership made a motion to give the money," he said. "We try to support any program that is dedicated to preserving film as an art form."

A planned summit between Govan and members of Save Film at LACMA, a group of cinephiles that has spearheaded an online protest but that hasn't given money, is set for Sept. 1.

"For us this is a victory," Debra Levine, a founder of Save Film at LACMA, said of the $150,000 pledges. "One year is not for forever, but it gives us a reprieve to work with the museum to offer our expertise and support to make sure the program has the longevity that it merits."

-- David Ng and Susan King

Related coverage:

LACMA cancels its weekend film program
Films at LACMA: A thing of the past or the future?
Turan on LACMA plans: 'What are these people drinking?'
LACMA getting an earful about axed film program
LACMA's cruelest cut
LACMA's Govan says donors step forward for film program
Save Film at LACMA, Michael Govan plan to meet
Martin Scorsese: An open letter to Michael Govan and LACMA
Behind Michael Govan's almost $1-million LACMA salary
A music lesson for LACMA's film program

Photo: A moviegoer buys at the LACMA's box office. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times.

Comments () | Archives (11)

LACMA Director Michael Govan should contribute from his own savings.

TALK ABOUT SPIN. The initial decision was stupid and badly made. Now that the community outcry (which the "director" didn't expect or understand because he's a corporate New Yorker) caused corporations to come forward - he'll take credit for it. You can go two ways with this - either is was stupid and spun or it was a stunt. Both are disingenuous and both are disrespectful to Angelenos. This whole thing is an insult to our intelligence.

I agree with the aforementioned comment, but am even more astonished that there wasn't somebody already "thinking about the history and future of film as art" etc. at LACMA. Thank you Hollywood Foriegn Press, Time Warner and Ovation!

$150,000 is what, 15% of Govan's salary?

Shame they couldn't also save the job, or reinstate, the fabulous Ian Birnie, which surely should have been part of the equation?

". . . but am even more astonished that there wasn't somebody already 'thinking about the history and future of film as art' etc. at LACMA."

There was . . . his name is Ian Birnie.

Why can't the stars and big-earning director kick in? Where's a check from Nora Ephron?

With all of the actors and behind-the-scenes talent in Hollywood, it's amazing to think that no one has stepped up to make an anonymous donation well beyond the $150,000 pledged by HRPA and TWC. How embarrassing for anyone associated with the community where they call film their "art form." Who's going to preserve their work in the future?

$150,000 for ONE year of costs???
$5 million for a BASIC endowment??

Surely there are qualified projectionists who might be willing to volunteer to sow the films---and if they didn't have three guards making sure we all had tickets, they could save money that way too.

They could have VOLUNTEERS taking tickets for the 30 minutes prior to screen time!!!

As LACMA is a non-profit, perhaps the movie/copyright owners could allow the screenings for free without getting payment? (This would be a tax deduction to the studios. If you look at the list of donors to LACMA you'll see lots of businesses who gave--just for the tax deduction!!!)

I'd be glad to program and select 20 films a year, at no cost. How much IS a projectionist for two (or even four) hours??

$150,000 for a year??
$5,000,000 for a BASIC endowment???

WHAT is costing so much money???

Dr.Bob demands to know "WHAT is costing so much money???"

The question is predicated on a false assumption -- because what he evidently doesn't realize is that $150,000 is a shoestring for the extraordinary quality of LACMA's film program under Ian Birnie (and before him, Ron Haver).

First, the money goes to pay the salaries -- extremely modest salaries when compared to Michael Govan's $1M annual paycheck and perks, to be sure -- for two staffers (Ian Birnie and Bernardo Rondeau, assuming that LACMA continues to employ them). The rest of the film department is volunteer. Ticket sellers and audio-visual techs are employed by other departments. LACMA stopped publishing a stand-alone brochure to advertise film programming a few years ago, so there are now no associated printing costs.

The remaining costs involve acquiring the films themselves. It is not a matter of merely "picking 20 films a year" as Dr.Bob volunteers and, presumably, going over to Blockbuster to pick them up or putting them on the museum's Netflix queue.

There are significant rental and shipping costs associated with securing prints of these films -- often rare or only recently restored, some of them only available from overseas and/or independent distributors who themselves are operating on shoestring budgets. Many, many of these films are *not* held by or available from the small cabal of major studios.

The blithe suggestion that these costs can just magically be "waived" shows a shocking ignorance of the most basic requirements of repertory film programming in general, and of the kind of programming Birnie (and before him, Ron Haver) has been making available at LACMA for decades.

But this misses the broader point. Even with recent cuts, LACMA is operating this fiscal year on a budget of more than $50 MILLION, of which $150,000 represents three-tenths of one percent. The insurance policies and shipping costs alone for major exhibitions routinely total more than $150,000. Indeed, as pointed out already, $150,000 represents just 15% of Michael Govan's annual compensation.

The real issue is not that $150,000 is an expensive price tag for world-class film programming; in fact, it's probably one of the best bargains, budget-wise, at any major U.S. museum. The REAL issue is that Michael Govan, the LACMA administration, and the LACMA board of trustees -- just like the above commentator -- evidently didn't even know (or care) that the film program is both world-class *and* a bargain in the first place.

Perhaps they will now wipe some of the egg of their faces and begin to pay attention.

Totally agree with your points, anon, but just wanted to say that the L.A. Times recently reported LACMA's annual budget at $74 million, which puts a $200,000 film budget at even less than three-tenths percent of the overall budget.


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