The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has operated a successful repertory cinema for many years. Michael Govan, the director of the museum, however, has recently announced that they will be cutting the program. This, needless to say, is a horrible development, and one that has national consequences for the already ailing repertory cinema circuit. Many filmmakers and critics have stepped up to criticize the LACMA's move, including Martin Scorcese and Peter Bogdanovich, but the best critique to date has come from my good friend Kyle Westphal, who literally wrote the book on Doc Films. He eloquently touches on both the disingenuousness of the LACMA's administration, and on the need for repertory cinema in general:
Simply stated, the whole history of cinema is not available on DVD. It cannot be studied adequately in the comforts of one’s home. And that home repertory is no substitute for a curated program that responds to and is influenced by local sensibilities and tempers. It has a character distinct from the nation’s Netflix queue.
This is a hard message but perhaps not so hard. It is broadly analogous to ‘Buy Local,’ a slogan of informed consumerism that is easily understood and practiced by a substantial portion of our population. It is implicitly understood that a purchase represents not only an exchange of money for goods but an affirmative vote for a certain way of living and all of the productive infrastructure that will sustain it.
In the same way, repertory film-goers cannot be motivated by nostalgia alone. They must be made to recognize that they are stakeholders sustaining a wider movement greater than any individual institution. Museums, of course, could not mount lavish exhibitions or comprehensive retrospectives without collective action—touring programs, collaborations with peer institutions, and the like. It’s the same story for film.