“You bastards”. That’s my usual exclamation on a Monday evening, once I’ve checked my local cinema listings. The reason for my colourful language stems not from anger, but from deflated disappointment, as more often than not, a film that I’ve been looking forward to seeing on the big-screen for a while, isn’t being shown at all. As somebody who spends an unhealthy amount of time at the cinema, it’s become a regular occurrence that for weeks on end, I’ll constantly see a trailer, or poster for a film that sparks my interest. Yet for some reason, despite marketing it, the actual cinema never seems to show the thing. It’s as if putting the posters up and playing the trailers is just part of some big, cruel joke, to tease filmgoers by saying “Hey, look at this film, doesn’t it look great?” only to then turnaround and exclaim “well unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a few more months to see it, when it’s released on Blu-ray”. This year alone, I’ve had to miss out on the cinematic experience of films such as Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, which tells the story of a lonely Japanese woman who becomes obsessed with the Coen Brothers’ Fargo; as well as the upcoming Robot Overlords, the low budget British sci-if flick, that shows no sign of a cinematic release in the whole of Wales, at least as of yet.
The pinnacle of my exasperation came a couple of weeks ago, when I found out that the award winning Still Alice was opening to a limited release in the UK, with the entirety of Wales being left out once again. Despite Julianne Moore’s performance in the film earning her both an Oscar and BAFTA, I couldn’t judge for myself whether or not it was well deserved, yet I could take my pick from the countless showings of the latest Vince Vaughan comedy. Something clearly wasn’t right and I turned to Twitter to rant and rave about this injustice, only to get a response from Still Alice’s Twitter page, informing me that it would be opening on more screens across the country the following week. This is often the case with some low-budget productions that may not be released everywhere on its opening day, but will instead appear for a limited time only at a smaller, independent cinema, a few weeks later. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and truth be told, I would much rather watch a film at my local independent cinema, the Chapter Arts Centre. It’s smaller screens make it a much more personable experience, and the ban of any food in the screenings makes for blissfully peaceful viewing. The only issue is the time between when you get to see the film, compared to the rest of the country, which can mean that sometimes you could miss out on that initial communal conversation with fellow film fans.
In the case of Still Alice, a weeks wait wasn’t that bad; especially considering that some films take months after their official release date, to arrive at an independent cinema. They’re are the lucky ones though, with some never even making it to the big-screen in some areas at all. Many smaller films, often documentary or foreign language, will play in and around London for a few weeks, disappear, and then re-appear a month or so later on dvd; a small blip on most people’s filmic radar. But for the elitists, who want to sit down and watch anything and everything, the missed opportunity to see something as it was made to be seen, can seem extremely unfair. Arguably, things are improving. Over the past decade, video on demand has become increasingly popular with services such as Netflix offering instant access to a huge library of film and television. The ability to stream whatever you want, wherever you want, has influenced the likes of Curzon Cinemas to simultaneously release films online, as well as in their limited screens across the country. You also have the BFI player and ITunes, which sometimes offer the chance to see a smaller film a lot sooner than it’s released on dvd. However, whilst this improves the lead times of an independent films release, it doesn’t offer a solution to maintaining that cinematic experience that so many people love. With VOD, independent cinema seems to have found a home, but at the potential sacrifice of the shared experience of going to the pictures. The question then is why do these smaller films struggle to gain any kind of traction in the multiplex?
Money is the simple answer. By the time you take into account distribution costs, as well as fees that the cinema takes itself for showing your film, sometimes it just isn’t financially viable to show your film everywhere. It isn’t the film-makers fault; after all, directors, writers and producers make films in the hope that they’ll be seen, and hopefully liked, by the widest audience possible. The blame here lies primarily on us as an audience. In an age where blockbusters reign at the box-office, is there any wonder why they take precedent over smaller films at the cinema. Julianne Moore may have won award for Still Alice, but it’s still a low-budget drama about a middle aged woman whose diagnosed with Alzheimers. Compared to something like a Vince Vaughan comedy, the type of which has already proving successful in terms of money, and suddenly Still Alice seems like a riskier prospect theatrically. It’s a sad and worrying concept that usually means some of the best films released year in, year out, often go unnoticed compared to bombastic, explosion filled action films.
It isn’t about being pretentious, and truth be told, I love a good ol’ summer blockbuster as much as the next person; but surely there should be equal opportunity for all films, big or small, to be discovered and experienced on the big-screen. The truth is, we have a greater influence on what films get made and get seen, than you may think. Word of mouth can often bring a film that was made on a shoestring budget into the mainstream. With social media as prevelant as every, people are more than likely to discover films such as Under The Skin through the rave reviews of friends and family, than any other marketing techniques. It is up to us then to firstly look beyond the multiplex, at what else might be out other than the four ‘big’ releases of that week; but further than that, we need to influence film-makers and production companies alike, by seeking out smaller, alternative films, over, or at least as well as the latest blockbusters.
Until we make the change, I’m afraid that the same saturated thing, re-cast and re-packed as something different, will be a constant presence at the multiplex. If that remains the case, then a lot of people could end up missing out on some really great pieces of cinema, and that’s a real shame. I hope that one day things will change; that independent films are given the same chance of discover and success as other films. But until that day comes, I’ll continue my weekly Monday ritual. “You bastards”.