The key to success, as with any business, is "location, location, location"
That's why cinematheques are mostly (if not always) based in major urban centres, close to the downtown core. Here in Toronto we have Cinematheque Ontario (Ontario is actually a province in Canada, larger than most small countries, and Toronto is its capital. Hence Toronto-area downtown residents make up its primary audience). The density of the population, combined with a larger percentage of university-educated residents, and the availability of other venues such as major first-run theatres (of course), multiple second-run theatres (such as the 'Festival' chain), film society screenings (such as my own group), thematic festivals (Fantasia is my favorite, which mostly highlights the cinema of Hong Kong, but also Japan and China), special premieres... right down to Reg Hartt and his private home screenings of everything from Fritz Lang to Tex Avery... and, finally, the Toronto International Film Festival (http://www.bell.ca/filmfest/99/index.asp) allows for an appetite for div!
ersity. Torontonians simply love going to the movies and, more importantly, being seen going to the movies.
That's what's unique. Despite the immense availability of theatrical 'art-house' screenings, Toronto has only had a handful of "art" video stores -- and most of them have gone out-of-business ('Art & Trash' was the most painful to see go. The store itself was puny, but loaded with stuff you couldn't find anywhere else). Those that survive do so mostly because of their "new release" sections. TV broadcasters have occasionally aired some typical cinemateque titles, but they consistently generate some of the worst ratings for that time slot. It seems many of the potential viewers of such films are not as keen to watch the films in the privacy of their own homes (where they can't be seen) but they are more than willing to travel across town, wait in line, and pay upwards of $10 (not including their driving, parking and expresso expenses) for the pleasure of being seen going into such a film.
Somehow the suburbs and rural areas don't project the same atmosphere. In any case, the only "negative" experiences I have with the Cinematheque Ontario is that they don't always get the best prints (often opting for the easiest source), or aren't always careful about which ones they order. One year they advertised the screening of the "restored" version of Visconti's The Leopard and, instead, showed a horrible 16mm print of the 'American' version (an example of taking the 'easy' route). Another time they were scheduled to show Unfaithfully Yours (1948) directed by Preston Sturges. Instead they received a print of Unfaithfully Yours (1984) starring Dudley Moore. True, the suppliers/distributors are not always a joy to deal with (Dennis Doros being an obvious exception. Without a doubt, the best I've dealt with), but a sharp booker would avoid or spot these mistakes before they ruin the screening.
Thankfully such occurrences are few and far between, and not everyone cares because, again, there is the "being seen" factor that overrides.
As for "successful" tactics... advertising, press and sponsorships help immensely (notice that the Cinematheque Ontario and TIFF websites are carried on the main Bell Canada web site). This is where Dennis Doros's suggestion to check out the Milestone website <www.milestonefilms.com> comes in handy. The 'Ideas on Running a Film Society' document <http://www.milestonefilms.com/articles/artfilmsoc.html> is a terrific guide that I have found very useful, and can easily be applied to Cinematheque tactics (at least in terms of screening practices).
Here is the Cinematheque Ontario website:
And while I'm at it, I would like to invite those in the Toronto area to a special Italian Film Society screening of "Tutti Giu' per terra (We All Fall Down, 1997) next Thursday night (March 23). Locations details are available at www.italianfilms.com, or just contact me. Admission is $8 for non-members. This screening has been made possible by the collaboration of Cinecitta' Holding (Rome) and the Italian Cultural Institute (Toronto).
Italian Film Society of Canada
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama: http://www.tcf.ua.edu