September 19, 2016
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Roxie Alive by Releasing
by Roger Rose
Count on it: we’ll see the 100th birthday celebration of the beloved Roxie Theater, the oldest operating theater in San Francisco, because the indie landmark was bought from former owner New College (now-defunct).
On April 16 of this year, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department put new locks on the doors, shutting out New College from the Roxie Theater (hobbling at age 99), handing the keys over to new executive director Alan Holt, along with his father, Rodney (‘Rod’) Holt, as the new owners.
The Holts, committed to saving the cinematic treasure, reopened the theater after signing a lease through their corporation, Roxie Theater. The Roxie will be run by proven gung-ho veterans: Bill Banning as Artistic Director, Rick Norris as head of Roxie Releasing, and Rachel Hart as Operations Manager. Roxie Releasing has run since 1976 as a small distribution company directly related to exhibitor Roxie Theater.
Alan Holt began the arduous process of acquiring non-profit status for the indie theater, with the intention of bringing good product to Roxie Releasing as a viable income source. With surprising alacrity, Holt signed for exclusive North American releasing rights for two promising new films. The company has hopes for a third feature film by a wildly-popular Turkish director whose name is being withheld because negotiations are still progressing.
The first big title under the Roxie Releasing label will be War Child (Stille Sehnsucht), a gritty German-Bosnian narrative film, that opened the Crossing the Borders Film Festival on August 15 with an appearance by director Christian Wagner. Winner of the screenplay prize at this year’s Montreal World Film Festival, War Child is presented by the Goethe Institute.
Banning attended 8 festivals last year in search of the best independent films for exhibition and distribution. At the Vancouver Film Festival in October 2007, he spotted the potential in Forbidden Lie$, the second release of the new corporation. “Forbidden Lie$, by director Anna Broinowski, was one of the best films I saw at this great festival,” Banning said. “I contacted them a few weeks after, and we started our negotiations. I knew right away I wanted that film, but New College was in turmoil at that time and we had no money to make a solid offer. We gave a lowball offer to the sales agent, knowing they were talking with other people.”
Months later, Banning learned the director would be in San Francisco, and met with Broinowski and producer Sally Reagan, where they talked a deal over dinner. Banning recalled, “Even though we didn’t have a distributor yet, we got a signed agreement from them.”
Anna Broinowski was at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival this past May when Forbidden Lie$ was awarded the Documentary Feature Special Jury Prize. The Australian doc is an adaptation of the book Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri. It was a definite coup for the Roxie Releasing team to gain the North American releasing rights for this important film, which opens at the Roxie Theater on September 19.
Holt & Company are moving ahead with efforts to retire the debt and to show the world that they have truly weathered the New College circus. When the Roxie was reformed under a new lease, only three-quarters of its debts were paid, leaving bills unpaid to some entities, including the Arab Film Festival. Now, Holt picks up the telephone and deals with them one by one. And he hasn’t had to disappoint too many people: “We’ve really been trying. I spend a lot of my time dealing with creditors, trying to make ends meet. Almost everyone is happy to know the Roxie is still around, willing to work out a payment plan. One company, Luminous Velocity, whacked our debt in half.”
Historically, Roxie has played an important role in establishing San Francisco as a leading center for doc films, with the distinction of showing more documentaries every year than any other theater in the country. Holt tells us that tradition will continue, and he plans to introduce more small-budget narrative films into their regular calendar. He outlined his goals: “In its rebirth, we hope Roxie is leading the effort to show the general public that there are other really good films being made outside of big budget studios. There’s no question, high-quality filmmaking is out there, but we have to wade through lots of bad ones to find the gems. We’d like to show a new movie in exhibition every week in our theater. And, I’d be tickled if Roxie Releasing spins out three new films for distribution this year, or in any year. That’s a really healthy, moderate, and successful pace.”
Throughout the changing decades, the Roxie has held the support of an adoring neighborhood following. The Roxie location at 16th and Valencia (where a surge of development is bringing high-end restaurants, elegant condominiums and boutiques) stands to benefit from people spending time and money walking the area. “Sixteenth Street is going through this really interesting
gentrification,” said Holt, “and I feel like we have an opportunity to become well-known through that. Our puzzle is how best to do this in the community around us – both with patrons of fashionable eateries and the surrounding residential community. We’re still trying to figure that out.”
Breaking from his usual pragmatism, Holt looked ahead. “I feel lucky to live in such an interesting time in film history,” he smiled. “With the digital revolution and struggling Hollywood films, we don’t know how that’s going to affect independent orgs and cinemas like us. It could be a complete revolution. We’ll find out.”
Roger Rose moved to San Francisco from Southern California, where he covered the arts and culture beat for the Los Angeles Times. His writing focuses on film and video, with special interests in fine art, dance and theatre.
Posted on Sep 04, 2008 - 01:35 PM