LACMA, Film Independent team for screening series

Two years after it nearly canceled its 41-year-old film series, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is expanding its movie offerings, announcing Wednesday that it will partner with Film Independent to launch a new cinema series.

The museum, which was widely criticized by film fans for cutting its movie offerings, will work with the nonprofit organization behind the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival to create a slate of weekly programs commencing this fall.

The lineup is set to include previews of dramatic and documentary films (some of which may not have theatrical distribution) along with screenings of archival films, retrospectives and international movies, filmmaker conversations, programs aimed at children and guest-curated programs.

The popular Tuesday movie matinees at the museum's Leo S. Bing Theater will continue under the new arrangement.

LACMA and Film Independent are currently looking for a curator to run the series.

Ian Birnie, who has been with LACMA's film department for 15 years and is currently the museum's consulting curator, will not be associated with the new endeavor and will be leaving the museum in the fall. Birnie's final film series will be a Tim Burton retrospective that is timed to an exhibition of film and art work from the "Alice in Wonderland" director opening at the museum on May 29.

"We spoke with sort of every organization. Film Independent had a really nice fit for two reasons," LACMA Director Michael Govan said in an interview. "They are very artist-centric because they support filmmakers. The idea of bringing contemporary filmmakers to help us with historic films is something that would be absolutely consistent with our art programs."

The museum's strategic planning for a new film series was funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which hands out the Golden Globe awards. The presenting sponsor of the new film series is the New York Times.

Dawn Hudson, the executive director of Film Independent, said the organization was looking for a way to expand the film screening series it programmed for its members, which often would feature the same movies being shown to other Hollywood guilds and organizations to build buzz and awards attention.

"We didn't really have a lot of sponsorship support or resources behind it," Hudson said of Film Independent's former film series. "We felt we wanted something that was a higher caliber for our members."

With the New York Times and LACMA's involvement, Hudson said, she thought the film series could become much more ambitious.

"Michael Govan has a vision for LACMA as a real town center for artists of all genres," Hudson said.

When Govan announced that he intended to curtail LACMA's film program in July 2009, citing declining attendance and financial support, die-hard cinéastes reacted angrily and the museum was faced with a public relations debacle.

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese went so far as to write an open letter to LACMA, asking that it rescind the decision. He described Birnie as a "programmer of immaculate taste and knowledge.... I do not understand why this approach to programming needs to be rethought."

After the backlash, the museum restored some of its film programming.

Govan said he was hopeful the new program could offer something for everyone.

"There is a range of things that have to be done in the museum," he said. "You need to be doing historical repertory films, you need to be doing previews but we think we can engage more people and hopefully grow the program. I am interested in growth, which was shrinking in visitorship and money was down to nothing. The idea is that with this partnership we could reverse the trend, and we could grow not only the audiences but also the participation and we could grow funding.

"My dream is that we could have movies going every night."

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