Not playing in a theater near you
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Want to see "Transamerica" now that Felicity Huffman has won the Golden Globe for playing a man wanting to become a woman? What about "Match Point," with its Oscar buzz for Scarlett Johanssen?
Don't head to a theater near you just yet.
While some likely Oscar contenders finally managed to play here much later than their Mainland theatrical runs ("The Squid and the Whale," for example, opened in late October in many Mainland cities but not until January here), and others had nice long runs ("Capote," "Syriana" and "Good Night, and Good Luck," anyone?), Hawai'i often finds itself trailing long past the end credits.
Gerry Madison, a Kailua cinephile who will drive to town — on a weekend, even — for a good movie, goes out of his way for interesting indie and foreign flicks.
"What I want to see are films that have some kind of a social or moral message to them, and it's a disappointment that a lot of that genre we don't get, or get in a very limited run," said the retired pilot and social activist.
Don't fret just yet: Oscar-worthy movies are known to make return engagements, especially in this brief award-season window. "Capote," for example, is back after going dark for a while, likely buoyed by its awards, including a best-actor Golden Globe for Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Where's 'Brokeback Mountain'?
Let's look at the most interesting case: a leading Oscar contender for best picture, "Brokeback Mountain," which last Monday won four Golden Globes, including best drama and best director.
"Brokeback Mountain" opened here on Jan. 6 in just two venues: both screens at the Varsity (Consolidated's art-film spot) and Regal's Dole Theatres, where a Sunday matinee drew a full house its first weekend. The next weekend, Consolidated moved the film to one screen at its Ward megaplex, and last weekend added several neighborhood screens, leading some to ask whether the limited release here was a miscalculation.
It was actually Consolidated's plan for O'ahu, said Consolidated spokeswoman Rachel Saunders: " 'Brokeback' was released in Hawai'i the same way that it was released in the rest of the country," she said via e-mail. "It has a rollout distribution — start at art-house locations and then go wider."
That might be true for O'ahu, but ... let's look closer. Initially, "Brokeback Mountain" opened in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York. Once it hit secondary markets, you could find the Ang Lee-directed story of two cowboys in love just about all over.
Take Denver, deep in the heart of cowboy country as well as the nearest major city to the story's locale. There, it opened before Christmas at more than five theaters — including several suburban multiplexes.
THE HAWAI'I MARKET
Why does it take so long for Hawai'i to see arty films on big, commercial screens?
Andrea Galvin of the Aloha Agency, a boutique marketing firm that helps publicize movies here (she represented "Brokeback Mountain"), said research she did a few years ago shows Hawai'i is considered a smaller media town, based on a gauge called DMA, or designated market area. Hawai'i tends to have a low-ranking DMA — but that's tied to how far TV signals reach in a geographic area, not actual moviegoing figures.
DMA "fits for most of the country — how they buy ads, what are the top 50 markets," Galvin said. "But Hawai'i gets lost. I don't think DMA is an appropriate barometer for box office sales in Hawai'i."
She gathered statistics four years ago that showed that the number of movie screens had tripled in the past decade, making Hawai'i's number of screens per person nearly twice the industry standard. And Honolulu adults are 50 percent more likely to attend movies than those nationwide, Galvin learned.
There's even a market here for the Oscar-watcher, who goes for edgier fare soon after release, she said.
"It would be great. We'd do really well to have a theater that caters to these movies, with gourmet concessions, cappuccino," she said. "People want a different experience."
(One reason the Arthouse at Restaurant Row changed its format to second-run movies was because the arty crowd spent money at nearby restaurants instead of the moviehouse popcorn stand, former manager Don Brown was quoted as saying at the time. Most theater money is made through concession sales.)
Sure, Hawai'i's population is 1.3 million people, Galvin said, but that doesn't include the Islands' 7 million visitors annually. And she doesn't buy the argument that visitors don't go to movies on vacation.
"For some people, that's the only time they CAN go to movies," Galvin said.
While some might cry in their popcorn over the Hawai'i-come-lately trend, film programmer Brown, a former curator at the Academy of Arts, saw it as a positive sign that "Brokeback Mountain" actually opened on several screens, rather than just one.
"There may be some nervousness about the subject matter," said Brown, who now oversees a film series at the University of Hawai'i. "Hawai'i can be conservative. ... I was hoping ("Brokeback Mountain") ... would do well, but nobody can tell when they book these things three months out.
"If they haven't seen it, (I can) ... see why they'd say, 'OK, let's go for the art crowd,' figuring it'd be less mainstream than it has been. I'm glad it's crossing over."
Where are all those foreign films?
What else is not playing?
"A whole slew of foreign films," said Brown, who's looking into using some Nu'uanu exhibition space for arty films.
While Hawai'i is in pretty good shape for Asian films, thanks to the Hawaii International Film Festival, Brown would like to see a venue for those French and Brazilian films.
The Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts can fill some of the foreign and indie void, said Konrad Ng, curator of film and video there. For example, last year's "The Sea Inside" played at Doris Duke just after its Oscar win.
Ng said he's always looking for good-quality films — and not just those short-listed at the Oscars, but any that may suit Honolulu tastes.
Some are resigned to our fate.
"We're just in that fourth tier. We have to wait for these things," said Brown, who also said changing technology has altered people's expectations: "The window between (films) coming out in theaters and DVD is just four months. Anybody can wait four months. A lot of people have these huge systems at home, and DVD is such high quality. People are opting for home viewing."