arthouse relief fund

The federal government’s recently-passed $2 trillion economic stimulus includes a $454 billion loan guarantee fund for businesses struggling from the economic blowback of the coronavirus, including movie theaters, which are facing a challenge like never before in the history of Hollywood. But it’s still unclear to me exactly what the timing will be on how the distribution of those funds will play out, and which theaters might be left standing when this pandemic eventually ends.

Today, the Criterion Collection and Janus Films have teamed up to start an arthouse relief fund for independent cinemas in the hopes that more than 150 theaters across the country will be able to pay their essential bills, including “payroll, insurance, rent, non deferrable loans, utilities, fundraising, and mortgages,” until we get through this period. Get the details below.

The government’s stimulus package expands its Small Business Administration programs in the hopes of letting smaller businesses (those which have 500 or fewer employees) pay their fixed costs with no revenue coming in, and in some cases, be eligible for loan forgiveness. (The National Association of Theatre Owners says that a majority of cinemas in the United States are classified as small businesses.) There are additional ways theaters could be helped out by this stimulus, but again, the timetable is a little murky and by the time this aid is disbursed, it may be too late for some struggling theaters.

So the Criterion Channel and Janus Films teamed up to donate $50,000 to establish the Art-House America Campaign (via ComingSoon), which “aims to provide financial relief to struggling independent cinemas across the country so they can pay staff and their essential bills and survive until it is safe to reopen their doors.” Their research shows that “even in normal times the average independent theater has only one month and twenty-six days of operating cash on hand,” so they wanted to do something to help – and fast.

The fund is hoping to raise $500,000 from donors, and theaters that receive funding from this will not be able to use the money to buy equipment, invest in future programming, or pay company executives. A committee will evaluate all of the applications “based on need, with the objective of helping theaters successfully survive temporary closures,” and funds will be distributed as soon as an application is approved.

To apply, theaters must meet the following criteria:

• Be an art-house motion picture exhibitor that operates year-round.

• Have been an open and operational cinema exhibitor for at least 6 months prior to COVID-19–related closures.

• Be an independent cinema. The exhibitor cannot be publicly traded or manage more than 4 separate theaters. 75% of staff must be based in the metro area where the theater is located.

• Be based in the United States.

If you have a little extra cash on hand and would like to contribute, you can do so at this GoFundMe page. If you’re wondering why you should contribute, the page has a handy list of reasons ready to go:

For Independent Cinema. Art houses are crucial participants in the independent film landscape, the leading exhibitors of small-budget, foreign language, and classic films.

For Film. Art houses make up 82.97% of exhibitors regularly and responsibly screening 35mm film. Without them the general public will lose access to 35mm archival prints and restorations.

For Community. Independent movie theaters bring people together. By inviting the collective viewing of films from around the world, art houses are fostering communication and collaboration and encouraging their audiences to encounter diverse perspectives. Without them, millions of Americans will no longer be able to enjoy a diverse range of films

For our Cities and Towns. Local movie theaters bolster other local businesses, like bars and restaurants. The typical arts event attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission, which means that these organizations will be leaders in the financial recovery of their communities.

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