Supporting Regional Interests

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In Focus

There are definitely players in the motion picture industry that would like to see regional NATO conventions just go away. Many of those who complain are valued industry vendors who are being pulled in so many directions to sponsor events at ShowSouth or CinéShow or the Geneva Convention or other gatherings.

These shows are primarily packed into an eight-week period, with vendors jumping from one state to another to promote their wares and support the larger exhibitors who demand their attendance and financial donations.

On the positive side, these events permits vendors, suppliers and studio personnel the opportunity to network in a less cluttered atmosphere where one-on-one meetings are achievable. Cinema owners enjoy the family environment, and educational programming is very important to the smaller theatre owners who do not offer these resources to their managers.

But the real importance of regional shows is that they help raise funds for the regional NATO groups to survive and lobby in the state legislatures on issues that can be quite detrimental to exhibition. The industry is facing a potential danger with larger exhibitors withdrawing their financial support and leaving these regional NATO groups short of staff and important lobbying dollars to defend and protect the interests of their smaller-sized member circuits and owners.

Legislation starts on the local level, and with more legislation coming out of states at a record pace, local NATO groups are the lifeline for independent exhibitors. A collective voice is always a stronger approach to an issue than going it alone.

National NATO is very cognizant of this problem and has been able to get its executive committee to set up a plan to supplement the lobbying activities of NATO-affiliated state and regional units. The board approved a total of $400,000 towards these efforts, with $150,000 dedicated to a supplementary fund that will assist the regular lobbying activities of state and regional units and $150,000 dedicated to a strike fund for addressing major, precedent-setting legislation and regulation. The remaining $100,000 is dedicated to enhanced legislative tracking and staffing.

We applaud the actions of NATO in setting up this fund and support regional conventions, as can be seen by the coverage in the September edition of Film Journal International of ShowSouth, CinéShow and the Geneva Convention.

No Need to Panic

As the inimitable Yogi Berra once observed, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Yes, once again media pundits are predicting hard times for the movie exhibition business, based on the summer’s less-than-stellar box office and the failure of a number of franchise sequels to generate the same big numbers as their predecessors. But guess what? They were saying the exact same thing last year, when big-ticket summer movies like Alice Through the Looking Glass, Ghostbusters and The BFG did not match high expectations. “Why Hollywood’s on Red Alert,” The Hollywood Reporter shuddered in one headline. Overall prospects for 2016 were looking gloomy, but then came the autumn and holiday season and a steady march of blockbusters like Sing, Moana, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to propel the year to another record finish.

To quote the wise Yogi Berra again, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Yes, there’s a lesson to be learned from sequel fatigue: Cars 3 and Despicable 3 didn’t generate the same enthusiasm as the previous hits in their series, and Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers not surprisingly did not shatter records in their fifth go-rounds (though both franchises remain formidable overseas). But those misfit Guardians of the Galaxy did not disappoint in their second outing, and the acclaimed Wonder Woman singlehandedly rescued the DC Universe from its perceived downward spiral. And the success of non-franchise pictures like Christopher Nolan’s bold Dunkirk, the raucous Girls Trip, the sleek and stylish Baby Driver and the irresistible sleeper comedy hit The Big Sick prove that all it takes to drive an audience back to cinemas is quality, originality and the kind of entertainment they want to tell their friends about.

As Eric Wold, senior analyst at B. Riley & Co., recently told Variety, “People tend to overreact a little bit when you get a short-term period of box-office weakness. The first reaction is some kind of systemic problem with the industry.”

The fall and early winter product will again determine whether the slump is something long-term or just another cyclical hiccup. With films yet to come like Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, The Great Showman, Pitch Perfect 3, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pixar’s Coco and a little contender called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we’re betting on the latter.