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LACMA getting an earful about axed film program

August 5, 2009 |  5:48 pm

Lacma

Who knows the wrath of a film community scorned? The Los Angeles County Museum of Art does.

In a little more than a week, the controversy over LACMA's decision to ax its 40-year-old film program has grown into a full-blown online debate, with the museum starting its own electronic forum Tuesday in response to an aggressive Facebook campaign and online petition seeking to restore the much-loved but debt-ridden program.

The museum's forum, moderated by members of its press department, is designed for staff members -- including museum director Michael Govan -- to respond to questions and concerns from the public. (The museum said it will shut down the film program after its Alain Resnais retrospective scheduled for Oct 2-17.)

So far, Govan has posted one comment on the forum. "We wouldn't be LACMA without film,"

he wrote. "In the last years, LACMA's attendance and contributions have risen steadily -- but not for the film program. It’s clear we need some extra thinking and action in the film area to give it more support and outreach."

Last week, he told The Times that "we are getting diminishing audiences. This is a good time since we are shrinking to spend time thinking and rethinking. We do have to stem our losses."

A LACMA spokeswoman said comments from the forum will be collected over the next several days to be presented to the museum's top leaders.

That has not satisfied the hundreds of movie lovers who have expressed their outrage on a Facebook page and online petition that are both run by a group of 10 or so film enthusiasts who call themselves Save Film at LACMA. The petition, which launched Sunday, has so far collected more than 700 signatures toward a goal of 1,000. The Facebook page currently has more than 1,000 fans.

"This is more than just canceling a film program. This is about a museum's obligation to a community and part of that obligation is protecting art, and film is art," said Kathleen Dunleavy, one of the group's members, in an interview today with Culture Monster. (Dunleavy describes herself as a film buff who works in the public relations field in L.A. She said she is not affiliated with any arts or motion picture organization.)

Save Film at LACMA first came together Saturday to organize the Internet campaign. In addition, they spent last weekend handing out leaflets at the museum's recent series on James Mason.

The other members of the group include academics, freelance critics and film programmers from L.A.  They say their goal is to sit down with Govan and hammer out a plan to reverse the museum's decision.

Chief among their concerns is the way the museum has marketed (or failed to market) the film program. "If the museum were to give it more money for publicity, more people would come. They used to put a calendar out and now they don't. A lot of people just don't know about it," said Ken Windrum, a member of Save Film at LACMA and an adjunct professor of cinema at Los Angeles Pierce College.

The group said Govan has responded to their concerns but only through barely personalized form e-mails.

Meanwhile, the petition and Facebook page continues to grow. The campaign has attracted some notable movie-world personalities who have signed their names and left comments. They include directors Errol Morris, Bertrand Tavernier and Michael Cuesta; editor Dody Dorn; and critics Ella Taylor and Jonathan Rosenbaum.

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from Ernst Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise," one of the many classic filmsshowcased at LACMA's film program over the years. Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive

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