LACMA aims to expand film program


After meeting for nearly three hours with a group of angry movie fans and professionals on Tuesday, Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said he was accelerating plans to replace the film program that is on the chopping block with a more expansive one -- but only if the museum can raise as much as $10 million in the next year.

In an interview, Govan laid out for the first time a set of proposed budget figures for what he sees as a revamped film department at LACMA. He said that he would like to increase the program’s annual budget to $500,000 from its current level of about $350,000. He also said he was looking to raise between $5 million and $10 million in endowments for the re-imagined film program.

Whether his vision will ever materialize depends on the museum’s ability to rally a group of patrons in a relatively short amount of time. Govan said he met at length with Martin Scorsese in New York on Friday to discuss the fate of the screening series, and also to talk money.


The filmmaker had written an open letter to Govan that was published in The Times on Aug. 13 protesting the museum’s decision to end its 40-year-old weekend film program. During the meeting, which took place at Scorsese’s home, Govan said the Oscar-winning director offered to help the museum find potential donors in the movie industry.

Even so, the economy and the meager state of fundraising in the art world could mean the donor-savvy Govan will run into difficulty in his quest for dollars. “If I say ‘no problem,’ that’s a lose-lose proposition for all of us,” he said. “But I will say that I’m working hard. We’re making film a priority of focus for us. I’m going to cautiously predict success.”

Govan met Tuesday morning with members of Save Film at LACMA, an informal coalition of movie buffs that has organized an online campaign and petition to rescue the film program.

During the meeting, dubbed the “popcorn summit,” that was described by participants as cordial but somewhat tense, Govan broadly spelled out the museum’s goal of endowing the screening series in the same manner as other curatorial departments.

Among LACMA’s long-term plans for the re-envisioned program are the creation of curatorial positions for different genres of film and the strengthening of ties with the museum’s other departments.

Last Wednesday, LACMA received a donation of $150,000 from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV in support of the film program. The money has allowed the museum to continue the series past its scheduled closing date in October. With the donation, the program has enough money to operate through the end of the fiscal year in June 2010.


“It’s a great start but it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not long term,” Govan said. “But it does point in the right direction. And you don’t want to lose the momentum.”

So far, most of that momentum has come from Save Film at LACMA, whose online petition protesting the museum’s July announcement that it was shutting down the film program so far has collected more than 2,700 signatures.

Members of the group said they were impressed with Govan’s enthusiasm and openness but they also expressed concern that his big-budget vision for the film department might be counterproductive since it rules out the possibility of running the program on a break-even basis.

“It seems like Govan is dreaming very big and setting up the program to succeed or fail only in terms of fundraising potential,” said Doug Cummings, a member of Save Film at LACMA. “Govan’s track record is that of a fundraiser and for him a program succeeds wildly or doesn’t succeed at all. They just couldn’t reinstate the program with modifications, they had to re-envision it on a large scale.”

The museum also announced Tuesday that it is creating CineClub, a $50 add-on to existing memberships that will help raise money for the re-envisioned department. Members of the CineClub receive priority ticketing and admissions to film events.

Programming for the film series will continue to emphasize classic Hollywood movies, foreign cinema and retrospectives, according to the museum. With a previously announced Alain Resnais retrospective through Oct. 17, the museum now says it has filled out its schedule through the end of November with retrospectives dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky and Alfred Hitchcock’s British films.


Save Film at LACMA said Ian Birnie, the film program’s former coordinator, is still working on a part-time consulting basis for the museum and that his fate is still being decided by museum leaders.

“I don’t know how possible Govan’s plan will be,” said Shannon Kelley, the head of programming for the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Kelley added that Govan was emphasizing patrons and donors above loyal ticket buyers.

“He’s presented a premise that the program must never die on the basis of its donor involvement, which has always been very small. The support of patrons may never be adequate.”