Spinning the reels as fast as possible
Posted: October 4, 2013 at 3:38 a.m.
This has been one of those weeks.
Nine films are opening in Little Rock this weekend. We anticipated three or four. Six films are opening in Northwest Arkansas. We anticipated two or three. We’re doing the best we can, but it’s apparent that there will be at least two or three we won’t have reviews for in the newspaper.
One of our goals here at Big Shot Movie Man Ltd. is to publish a review for every movie that opens in Arkansas on the day it opens. (Or, in the case of midweek openings, on the Friday after it opens.) But because studio publicity departments don’t recognize that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is a statewide newspaper with circulation throughout Arkansas(which has a population scraping at 3 million), we aren’t given access to a lot of movies before they open. Some studios screen some movies for us. A couple - Disney, Warner Bros. - don’t screen anything for us. (I’m working on Fox. Stay tuned.)
This is frustrating because the studios screen for critics in a lot of markets, and a lot of newspapers with smaller circulation figures have access to more advance screenings than we do. Our circulation is larger than The Miami Herald or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which doesn’t even have a film critic), but those cities get screenings of practically every studio release. We’re bigger than The Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But publicists don’t care, because it says on their official sheet that Little Rock is the nation’s No. 72 market. And Fayetteville/ Springdale is No. 106.
We have a pretty sophisticated and motivated moviegoing culture here. There aren’t many feature sections like MovieStyle in newspapers anymore, but I think the interests and appetites of our readership justify the emphasis on a review-driven (as opposed to celebrity gossip-driven) movie section. So we do what we can to review what we can, and most of the time we hit for a pretty good average.
A little more than a year ago, I took on two freelance critics, Dan Lybarger and Piers Marchant, respectively based in Kansas City, Mo .,and Philadelphia, to help me with reviewing chores. This was necessary in part because there are fewer and fewer reviews moved by our wire services in a timely fashion, and the quality of many of these reviews is such that I won’t have them in MovieStyle. Piers and Dan are a huge improvement over what the wire services provide.
We have our victories, now and then - we have good relationships with a lot of smaller studios and distributors. IFC/Sundance Selects and Sony (Columbia) Pictures Classics are generally willing to provide us with early looks at their films; Weinstein Co. will screen most of its films for us (though this week we found out about Haute Cuisine too late to make it happen). Sometimes reaching out to small, independent companies yields results. (I was pleasantly surprised when the distributors of Vikingdom responded to my query with a link to their film.)
Most weeks we have more material than we can fit in the newspaper - so MovieStyle content spills over onto our blood, dirt & angels blogsite (blooddirtangels.com). I expect that’s where you’ll find the reviews we didn’t get in the newspaper.
We’re planning on reviewing a lot of the films that will be playing at this year’s Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival on the blog. I wouldn’t be the first person to observe that this looks like the festival’s best-ever lineup. I’ve seen a lot of the films, including Good Ol’Freda, an uplifting character sketch of The Beatles’ longtime fan club president and secretary, Freda Kelly, who’ll be in attendance, and Josh Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (which I’m writing about in depth in my Perspective column Sunday).
The festival starts Oct. 11 and runs through Oct. 20 at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. You can find out more about it at www.hsdfi.org.
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 10/04/2013