A first for the Directors Guild

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For the first time in Directors Guild of America history, a woman has won their annual award for best director of a feature film: Kathryn Bigelow for her acclaimed Iraq War drama, The Hurt Locker. Overall, 2009 was a better-than-average year for female directors. Along with Bigelow’s achievement, veteran Nora Ephron guided Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination for Julie & Julia, and Denmark’s Lone Scherfig did the same for breakout star Carey Mulligan in the art-house hit An Education. Anne Fletcher launched Sandra Bullock’s outstanding 2009 with the smash comedy The Proposal, and writer-director Nancy Meyers scored another box-office success with It’s Complicated. In the art-house world, Jane Campion, Claire Denis, Anne Fontaine and Agnès Varda all won critical praise for their latest features.

But Bigelow’s triumph and these other successes don’t reflect the big picture. Roughly ten percent of the 600 films released last year in New York were directed by women, and the majority of those were small specialty releases. Only a few of the six major studios’ releases were helmed by women, and two studios had no female representation at all in the director’s chair.

Hollywood’s output is generated by many, many female writers, producers, editors, craftspeople and studio executives. But “director” remains a job hard-won. Demographics play a role, the fact that young males are such a large segment of the avid moviegoing audience. But time and again, female moviegoers have proven how significant they are to the industry’s bottom line, with their support of box-office phenomena like Sex in the City and the Twilight series. And Kathryn Bigelow herself has proven throughout her career that a woman can direct a film as rugged and action-packed as any man. Here’s hoping her historic DGA win changes a few perceptions and helps give women more chances to claim the title “auteur.”

The Power of Avatar

When filmmakers George Lucas, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis and Robert Rodriguez appeared at ShoWest a few years ago to champion 3D digital technology, there was probably no shortage of skeptics in the audience convinced 3D would once again be just a passing fad. But any remaining doubts have surely been erased by the unprecedented worldwide success of Cameron’s groundbreaking 3D Avatar.

The director’s advanced performance-capture technology and visual-effects wizardry have produced the most exciting, fully immersive experience audiences have had in theatres in years. Avatar’s record-breaking numbers are surely driven by moviegoers telling their friends, “This is one picture you can’t wait to see at home—you must go to the theatre!” Many viewers of Avatar are experiencing 3D for the very first time, and the “Wow” factor of Cameron’s movie has created an appetite for more three-dimensional spectacles.

Hollywood is responding with the recently reported decision by Warner Bros. to convert movies like Clash of the Titans (also with Avatar star Sam Worthington) and the final Harry Potter films to 3D. Things are now moving so quickly that there will be a major 3D screen crunch when Clash opens in April just a week after DreamWorks Animation’s 3D How to Train Your Dragon. Another 3D contest is already scheduled for December, when Warner’s Yogi Bear goes up against Disney’s Tron Legacy.

The new 3D era is here. To maximize its box-office potential, exhibitors are well-advised to fast-track as many 3D digital screens as they can.

Going Green
Watching the President of the United States deliver his State of the Union message late last month reminded us immediately of the rift between the Republican and Democratic parties. Certainly they all have the best interests of the American people in their hearts, just a different approach to achieve their goals. But there is one commonality that is shared by all, and that is going “green.”

Some people believe that the modern environmental movement can be traced to the publication of the book Silent Spring in 1962. Author Rachel Carson detailed how a number of pesticides are toxic to both animals and humans. The book sparked widespread concern for the many ways in which human activity affects the environment. More to the point, it opened our eyes to the potentially hazardous effects that the chemicals and materials used in American industry, agriculture and everyday household products have on humans themselves.

The motion picture industry has gone green in so many facets of the business. The studios and laboratories have set the pace, and now the theatrical end of the business is doing its part to catch up. In the March edition of Film Journal International, assistant editor Sarah Sluis reports on how theatres are incorporating environmentally friendly designs, products and technologies into their new construction and already existing buildings. And exhibition/business Andreas Fuchs looks at Carmike’s new Majestic theatre in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first cinema in the country to be LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Movie theatres have experienced many architectural changes over the years. From multiplexes to stadium-seating theatres, cinemas have an entirely different look than the ones our parents attended back in the ’50s and ’60s. The next big architectural change/trend is going green. In building a movie theatre, emphasis is placed on energy reduction, use of local and recycled materials, and practices during construction. Going green can be done at various paces depending on one’s goals and resources. Certain green choices like computerized HVAC and lighting can be paid back in a few years, while others like solar power require more of a capital investment but come with healthy tax breaks that can make the payback much quicker.

One circuit that has invested in its future by installing solar panels on the roofs of its theatres is California’s Cinema West. Rising energy costs and competition for natural resources make switching to energy-saving technology a wise investment. Coupled with generous tax incentives from federal, state and local governments and in some jurisdictions the ability to accelerate depreciation is another good reason to think about solar energy.

Using local, recycled materials and keeping the job site free of dust and harmful chemicals is one aspect of LEED certification. One of the cheapest and easiest ways to go green for both construction and retrofitting is lighting.

Another great incentive is that the public wants to support businesses that are green. If you let your customers know about your green initiatives, they are more likely to come to you.