The proliferation of new media has wrought the most significant changes in the movie business since the coming of sound. With the invention of the VCR, the advent of the DVD, and the explosion of the Internet and its attendant opportunities, audiences today can avail themselves of more ways of experiencing films than ever before. These changes strike right at the heart of the business of film: distribution. If new rhythm patterns create radical transformations in jazz, new distribution patterns provoke similarly cataclysmic metamorphoses in movies as both art and industry.
Just ask Adley Gartenstein, the president of Film Movement, a distributor of independent and foreign films, and one of the prime movers behind its new Jewish Film Club.
“The ways in which people are consuming films today — on video-on-demand (VOD), from Netflix — people don’t know what’s out there to watch,” he says. “Comcast will have 25,000 movies in their VOD section. No one can keep track of all those titles.”
Ten years ago, just as the balloon was taking off, Gartenstein and his colleagues began Film Movement, at first a subscription series offering a monthly DVD of something new and unexpected, and perhaps, international. As it celebrates its tenth anniversary, Film Movement offers not only the original service, but also has VOD and on-line streaming. It also distributes films theatrically, and its DVDs can be rented from Netflix.
“We are a curated service, we do the research for you,” Gartenstein says.
As the company has grown, the idea of doing more specialized versions of its original project has become increasingly attractive. The result is its new project, The Jewish Film Club.
“We see a lot of excellent Jewish-themed films that just don’t get theatrical distribution in the States,” Gartenstein says. “The Jewish film festivals have grown in number and size. They attract a disproportionate number of moviegoers, and their ticket-buyers are one of our natural audiences.”
At the same time, he insists, the hectic pace of modern life makes it increasingly difficult for people to get to film festivals. His answer is simple. “If you are not one of the lucky few, we bring the festivals to you,” Gartenstein says.
The Jewish Film Club has been in existence for less than a year. In that time, it has offered films from Israel, the Czech Republic and France.
“It’s a wide selection of what we think of as the best in Jewish-themed cinema,” Gartenstein says.
The company continues to release its various films in theaters as well. The most recent offering of the Jewish Film Club, “Free Men,” directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, is a fact-based period drama about French Muslims who hid Jews from the Nazis during WWII. The film, which is part of both the Sephardic Film Festival and Rendezvous with French Cinema, will be opening in New York in March.
Gartenstein sees the film club’s mission as something more than just letting people see good movies about Jews.
“It used to be that Jews would find each other in synagogues,” he says. “Today fewer Jews indentify themselves as synagogue-goers. But Jews remain very strongly self-identified, even if it’s a cultural identification. Film is the modern way for people to come together and relate to each other as Jews. All of our films try to convey the best aspects of being alive and human and a Jew.”
For information on the Jewish Film Club, go to www.jewishfilmclub.com. For information on Film Movement, go to www.filmmovement.com. “Free Men” opens on March 16 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema (62nd Street and Broadway) and the Quad Cinema (34 W. 13th St.).