‘Life’ breathed back into Images

Images Cinema was recently forced to pull both “The Shipping News” and the hotly-anticipated “Waking Life” from its February lineup due to problems with the films’ distributors. While both films will be arriving at Images in March before spring break, the delay has disappointed groups of fans and pared the February schedule down to a paltry three films.

Daniel Wallace ’96, executive director at Images, explained that “for a small independent theater like us. . .there are almost no independent distributors.” Distributors purchase the rights to a movie and nationally circulate reels of the film for showing in theaters. A substantial percentage of the movie’s box office profits – 90 percent during the movie’s first three weeks and a still significant 35 percent at second-run theaters – goes straight to the distributor. The system causes smaller theaters like Images, which must schedule its lineup at least six weeks in advance, to have less control over what films become available to them.

At the core of the movie business is the distributor’s desire to turn as much profit in as many markets as possible. “Movie houses do not make money showing movies – they make money selling popcorn,” said Wallace.

For an independent nonprofit theater like Images, securing films can prove difficult on a restricted budget. Alexandra Kalmanofsky, Images’ artistic director, and Wallace collaborate to choose the films that end up on Images’ single screen. The opportunity arose for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” to be shown at the theater during the blockbuster’s opening week, contingent upon the theater’s agreement to show it for a month without other films. Images declined in order to show a more diverse range of films, like Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park” and Buster Keaton’s 1931 “Sidewalks of New York.”

Director Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life,” which Wallace described as a “bordering on ground-breaking film,” was pulled due to the hesitancy of distributor Fox Searchlight to guarantee the movie’s on-time arrival. The retraction of this film in particular was a “tremendous disappointment” for Images, Wallace said. “‘Waking Life’ has been asked for more than any other film at my time at Images,” Wallace said, noting the influx of e-mails and calls heralding what would have been a successful run at the theater. The vehemence of local interest spurred the theater to succeed in securing the film for the March schedule.

“The Shipping News,” directed by Lasse Hallstrom (who also oversaw such films as “Chocolat” and “The Cider House Rules”), has been doing consistently poorly at the box office since its January release. Its distributor, Miramax, pulled out of the deal with Images in order to keep it circulating in metropolitan theaters, hopefully to pump life into Hallstrom’s obvious Oscar bid.

Wallace admitted that the film “doesn’t seem to have much appeal” to filmgoers who have not read the Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Proulx novel on which it is based. However, when asked if he believed students would reflect the national indifference to the film, Wallace replied that “our audience is unpredictable,” expressing confidence that the all-star cast including Kevin Spacey, Dame Judi Dench and Julianne Moore could still pull in audiences.

One of Images’ greatest successes this year, “Amélie” (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet) will revisit Spring St. for another round. “Amélie,” which Wallace said “drew crowds and crowds of people, night after night,” will return in the middle of March.