When Metrograph opened the doors to its chic two-screen cinema (and restaurant and bookstore) three years ago, the Lower East Side theater quickly established itself as a steady beacon in the New York City film landscape. Now it’s taking what Artistic and Programming Director Jake Perlin described as the next natural step: expanding into the distribution business with Metrograph Pictures.
The theater shows around 600 films a year, some of which don’t have distribution deals lined up within the United States. This predicament offered up an opportunity for Metrograph to step up and fill the void.
“There are a lot of films that we love, particularly older repertory films, that no one has in the U.S.,” Perlin explained in an interview with ALL ARTS. “And we just thought, if we’re going to show these movies because we love them, why not — in some cases — purchase them and distribute them around the country?”
Metrograph Pictures officially launched on February 22 with Claire Simon’s “The Competition,” a documentary that follows the film school admission process at Paris’s prestigious academy La Fémis (where Simon taught for a decade). “When we were dealing with the French rights holders about showing it here,” said Perlin, “we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try Metrograph Pictures and do it exactly with the type of film that we wanted to get behind, which is a film by a great director who’s had a lot of great work that’s never been officially distributed before in the United States.”
So far, the reception of the new distribution arm has been positive, with ambitious plans for expansion in the works. The company’s second film — a new restoration of Djibril Diop Mambéty’s “Hyenas” — is slated to open on April 26 at Metrograph, followed by a nationwide tour.
In addition to new releases, a docket of repertory films also lines the Metrograph Pictures distribution catalog — a move that mirrors the theater’s overall programming approach. For these films, audiences can expect a mix of new digital restorations and print releases.
“If it’s a repertory film, it will be a new restoration, either digitally or as a 35-millimeter print,” said Perlin. “It depends on what material is available. If the negative is acceptable, it’s always nice to strike a new print. And in some cases, films will have new digital restorations and new prints, and venues can decide what they want to do.” Here, the distribution wing, Perlin stressed, follows the theater’s unsentimental approach in regard to format. “The goal is to show the best possible thing, always.”
Compared to the cinema’s packed programming line-up, the portfolio of films to be presented by Metrograph Pictures is slim by design. “We are running down films we’ve always loved that have sort of disappeared,” said Perlin. “We’re actively going out and seeking the films that we want because we don’t want to over-do it and we want to make sure that everything we do is really special.”
This approach also allows for a deeper dive into the material — the yields of which will surface as supplemental written content. “It’s more than just putting the movie out. It’s re-contextualizing the film. And providing a lot of robust information around the film,” said Perlin, explaining that this material will be made available online and in print.
“If it’s a film we love and doesn’t have distribution and we feel like we can do something with it beyond Metrograph, then that’s the purpose of the company,” Perlin said. “For some of these repertory films, these are movies that we absolutely worship and know that other audiences and other programmers want to see and show it too, and we’re just able to help make it available.”
Top Image: Detail of Claire Simon's "The Competition" poster.