Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Senator’s Battle for Watchmen

I know some of you who have been watching this closely are probably aware that there was some doubt as to whether The Senator would run Watchmen. From what I’m hearing, it seems that there was a brief period where Warner Bros. rescinded the film booking, due to the city's harsh stance and their alarming comments in the recent Daily Record article, where an elected official indicated that the theatre may close for "a month." That understandably spooked the studio and I hear they pulled the date with a call to the theatre last Friday evening. The resourceful folks at The Senator have once again worked their magic and prevailed. The run is now back on!

The near-miss incident illustrates the fact that closing the theatre, for ANY length of time, would sever the ongoing relationships with the film distribution and exhibition industry.

Tom Kiefaber has observed in the past that The Senator needs the film distributors, but they do not need The Senator. Most single-screens left in the nation don't offer first-run films like Watchmen. The Senator's ability to do so involves many factors, including the two "move-over" screens at The Rotunda. Kiefaber has been candid that the theatre's cash-flow difficulties are a negative factor, but that the distributors continue to work with them based on The Senator's legacy in the industry and Tom's 30-year working relationship with them. If that critical ongoing relationship ends abruptly, the distributors may do what they have done in other situations: they may push what Tom had called the "game over" button in licensing films to The Senator. That would make it difficult or impossible for the theatre to ever offer first-run films again in the future, regardless of who is in control when the theatre reopens.

In this case, even a rumor of a possible closure made WB nervous enough to pull the film, so this factor obviously needs to be taken seriously. Tom Kiefaber has built these relationships over decades, and they are precious. We need to make sure The Senator does not close during the transition, so those relationships can be maintained.

What is not well understood is that Tom's position for some time now has been that he can no longer preserve and protect the Senator and that ownership of the theatre needs to convert to community-based non-profit entity in a manner that keeps the theatre in operation. A seamless process could improve the theatre's present difficulties with "slow pay" to the film distributors, while leaving intact the critical link to the film industry.

At the January press conference, it was made clear that closure may be imminent, which is why the call was made by Tom and the community leaders for the city and state representatives to come to the table with the owner and the business and residential community. The "offer," which the city made public in response, does not indicate that they understand the necessity of keeping the theatre in operation during the transition. Their lack of understanding of the necessity of keeping the theatre open is illustrated by Bill Henry’s public statement in the Daily Record article about the probability of closure. He obviously thinks shutting it down for a month to upgrade is acceptable.

This also illustrates why many in the community are beginning to understand that, debts or no debts, it's important to utilize Kiefaber's lifetime of experience during the transition that he has been trying to bring about for the past few years. He wants a community based non-profit to take over. The community wants that as well. Everyone has been quite clear about this for a while now.

Tom is saying that he's looking forward to moving on, once The Senator is in a "safe harbor." This makes perfect sense to me. His lifetime of experience in the industry, however, and his wealth of connections, many with celebrities, are not something that should be thrown away lightly.

The city, the community, and all of us who are following this should respond quickly to assist in the efforts to keep the theatre in operation. While we are all focused on the theatre's future, it seems that we are really not heeding the owner's attempts to inform us of how quickly the theatre could shut down in our midst. The Senator is in a crisis situation, and we need to respond immediately.

The guy has debts that are increasing while he tries to keep the patient alive. His is a message that all who love The Senator and care about its future must respond to. The debts, which he took on as a consequence of his mission to keep the Senator operating, are now being used to discredit him and affix blame. That may soon lead to the very thing this guy has devoted his life to preventing. A pretty cruel irony, from my perspective. We all need to wake up and smell the popcorn.

Just my opinion.

What can we do if we want to support The Senator immediately? Go to the movie this weekend. Take all your friends. Email your friends and ask them to go.

Stay tuned to this blog for future developments, as things are happening fast.

I also want to recommend Tom Harris's Friends of The Senator Theatre blog and there's also a Friends of the Senator Theatre google group, started by Richard Tryzno Ellsberry.

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