Patrons of the Saratoga Film Forum agreed Wednesday that the organization can still be viable after Bow Tie Cinemas comes to town and starts showing the mainstream independent films that are the forum’s bread and butter.
The exact mission remained up for debate at a public meeting Wednesday night about the future of the Film Forum, which was organized 20 years ago to give residents an alternative to driving to the Spectrum in Albany to see foreign and independent films.
It now holds about 175 movie nights a year, a combination of popular independent films, documentaries, foreign films and classic movies, and brings in between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, which it spends on screening nights and compensating its two paid employees, said President Amy Godine.
Film fans, who turned up nearly 100-strong to discuss the issue, disagreed on whether the forum should partner with Bow Tie, join up with Proctors when the Schenectady organization starts putting on arts programs at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, or stay on at the Saratoga Arts Center, where the forum currently shows almost all of its films.
Bow Tie is expected to open 11 screens in July at a new downtown location on Church Street and has said most of them would be dedicated to independent films. The company also is renovating and reopening the former Regal Cinemas at the Wilton Mall, where it plans to screen popular commercial movies.
Whether the forum partners with Bow Tie or not, the theater will erase much of the forum’s current revenue, Godine said.
As a first-run theater, Bow Tie will always get first dibs on the mainstream independent films that draw the biggest crowds to the Film Forum and fund the showing of more obscure films.
“Bow Tie will have its own discrete arrangements with distributors,” she said. “We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Godine asked whether the forum can make enough money to survive without the revenue from those popular films.
Foreign films and documentaries that haven’t shown at bigger theaters draw a much smaller crowd, she said.
“In Saratoga, a little bit of ‘edgy’ goes a long way.”
Working with Bow Tie would mean the forum showing a film there on a week night and sharing the ticket sales with the theater, Godine said. That would be useful for showing films that are only available in digital format, and could allow the not-for-profit organization to avoid spending $60,000 on a digital projector in the next year or so as movie houses increasingly release films only in digital format.
But the forum couldn’t use Bow Tie on weekends, which might eliminate a lot of the audience, Godine said.
Some people at Wednesday’s meeting advocated for working with Bow Tie.
“I think you’re better off working with them than against them,” David Howson said.
It’s still not exactly clear what Bow Tie’s plans would mean for the film forum, and some patrons wondered aloud whether the company really will show as many independent films, as its officials say.
“I think to some extent, we don’t know what’s going to happen here,” said Amy Durland of Saratoga Springs.
Proctors seems a more willing partner that has said it doesn’t want to compete with what the film forum decides to do, said meeting moderator Dale Willman from the news website Saratoga Wire.
Some residents warmed to the idea of working with Proctors.
“If you model that and go after that, you’re probably better off than putting something together with Bow Tie,” said Al Turkheimer of Saratoga Springs.
People said they supported continuing the forum’s special events such as post-film discussions and live music performed in conjunction with a movie. Bow Tie would hold a theater open for such events after a showing if the forum wanted to organize it, Godine said.
Those types of events require time and raising more money, though.
Streaming more content from the Internet, inviting local filmmakers to show their creations and showing the mainstream independent films after Bow Tie is done with them were other suggestions.
Both “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” were shown at the forum this month, after they left first-run theaters, and showing those types of popular films late still brings in crowds who missed the movies at the theater.
“I would suggest that the Bow Tie Cinemas only help the Film Forum,” said Jonathan Greene of Saratoga Springs.
The intimate theater site at the Arts Center lends itself to impromptu film discussion, with the lights kept on before and after the movie, said board member Susan Bokan.
“We’re vacuuming, we’re putting up chairs, and there are 20 people” still in the room, she said.
Even as the forum members look at potentially making a major change, new things have happened, including an online membership system and a donation of theater seats that could replace the chairs set up for each showing now.