In a victory for a homegrown local protest movement as well as for the cultural life of the city, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has backed off a plan to shut down its weekend film screening program. In fact, the museum’s director, Michael Govan, said this week that he not only has enough money now to keep the program alive for another year, but he hopes to raise its annual budget from $350,000 to $500,000 and build an endowment to keep it going in years ahead.
That’s welcome news. The idea that Hollywood’s hometown couldn’t sustain a smallish, 40-year-old film series just blocks from Charlie Chaplin’s old studio was shocking and depressing. What’s more, it was heartening to hear such an impassioned outcry about a local cultural issue. Hooray for Kenneth Turan and Richard Schickel, two film critics who argued for the program. Kudos to director Martin Scorsese, who wrote to The Times protesting LACMA’s decision. And the biggest thanks are due to the ad-hoc group Save Film at LACMA, which gathered 2,700 signatures on an online petition, and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV, which together ponied up $150,000 to keep the program open.
Now comes the hard part. Looking at Govan’s original decision, it’s clear the program wasn’t being canceled because elitists at LACMA don’t take film seriously; the bigger problem was that attendance had fallen by 50%. Ultimately, if the program is to succeed, it must attract patrons.
Which raises questions about the proper fare at such a venue. On Wednesday, LACMA said it would continue to emphasize classic Hollywood movies and foreign cinema. That’s good, although we suspect it will remain difficult to rope viewers in for the upcoming Andrei Tarkovsky festival and the Hong Sang-soo retrospective. On the other hand, if LACMA stoops to “Star Wars” festivals and Judd Apatow retrospectives to boost attendance, it’s not worth continuing the program at all. Like so many curatorial decisions, it’s about finding the right balance.
There’s also the question of where Govan’s $5-million endowment will come from. Historically, it has been tough to persuade some of L.A.'s wealthiest citizens to open their wallets for local causes. Especially on the Westside, where so much of the film community resides, there has often been a preference for faraway causes over those at home. Perhaps this issue will bring them out. Surely every local funding crisis can’t be solved by Eli Broad or David Geffen.
We’re hoping that Govan can find the right balance and raise the money to build a bigger, better film program. As Scorsese wrote: “If this is not valued in Hollywood, what does that say about the future of the art form?”