The press release, sent out by a firm not associated with the American Cinematheque, must have gone out first thing on April 9. Deadline broke the story at 9:06am, followed by The Hollywood Reporter (10:31am) and Variety (10:50am).
The articles painted a narrative of a win/win solution for a cash-strapped non-profit rescued by a deep-pocketed corporation. The only person named was Ted Sarandos, the American Cinematheque board member who had recused himself from voting on the sale, since he is also an executive at Netflix.
Because the only information about the proposed theatre sale has come from internal sources, with no independent reporting, the news raises many more questions than it answers.
We love the Egyptian Theatre and care deeply about its long history on Hollywood Boulevard, which since the 1990s has been entwined with the American Cinematheque. We’re are troubled that such a major change would be announced as all but a done deal, at a time when the American Cinematheque lacks an executive director (Barbara Smith retired late last year) to advocate for the non-profit’s mission.
And we’re hearing privately from many people in the film revival and historic preservation communities who are also concerned, and confused that, weeks after the proposed theatre sale was widely reported in the industry press, American Cinematheque members have yet to receive any explanation at all.
Perhaps Netflix really is uniquely positioned to help a treasured non-profit that is in dire straits. But before a landmark theatre that was gifted to the non-profit and the city by L.A.’s redevelopment agency is sold, the board owes American Cinematheque’s members and the community an open and honest conversation about how and why it’s come to this.
Questions for the American Cinametheque board:
1. What are the board’s reasons for considering a sale of the Egyptian Theatre?
2. When did the board begin to discuss selling the theatre, and what motions were put forward?
3. Have any alternatives to a property sale been explored?
4. Have any potential theatre buyers other than Netflix been approached?
5. Are costly improvements that were funded by donations, like the 2016 state-of-the-art enclosed nitrate-stock projection booth, being included in the proposed sale? If so, what are the potential tax ramifications to donors including The Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, and the Academy Film Archive? Have donors been notified?
6. What are the conditions of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s $1 sale of the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque, and is it actually legal to sell the theatre to anything other than a non-profit organization that shares its mission?*
7. Why has the non-profit failed to file its required tax forms dating back to 2015, resulting in a “Notice of Intent to Suspend or Revoke Registration” being issued in April 2018, and why is it currently listed on the State of California Attorney General’s website as “Delinquent”? What actions are being taken to resolve these issues?
8. Is the board conducting an active search for a new Executive Director, and if so what is the status of this effort?
So, what could possibly go wrong? Here are some things to consider:
• A new owner of the Egyptian Theatre could seek permits to do major interior improvements. While historic elements of the structure are protected under the city’s landmark ordinance, public access and use as a movie theatre are not protected. It could become a corporate media VIP lounge, restaurant, private club, nightclub, co-working space or even a private residence.
• The news stories based on the press release suggest there would be an agreement from Netflix to allow the American Cinemetheque to continue using the theatre on weekends. Even if entered into in good will, such an agreement could break down for many reasons. Netflix might sell the theatre to another entity. Rental costs might become too high. The owner might decide that other weekend uses are too profitable to miss.
• Assuming the weekend schedule did work out, the American Cinematheque would have to focus on more commercial programming during its limited screening times. Membership would certainly decline among patrons who frequent the Egyptian Theatre and enjoy less commercial programs. Without the caché of the flagship Hollywood Boulevard theatre and high profile Cinematheque-associated festivals, fundraising for the non-profit could become more difficult.
• The American Cinematheque has business relationships with independent festival programmers like TCM, Cinecon and Noir City and industry unions like the Art Directors Guild. Could these entities continue to book the theatre, for the necessary dates and at a reasonable cost, if it was sold to a corporation?
• There are a number of historic businesses in Hollywood that benefit from a symbiotic relationship with the American Cinematheque, and would see reduced revenues if the Egyptian Theatre ceased to be a repertory house. These include The Larry Edmunds Book Shop, Miceli’s and Musso & Frank.
• The American Cinematheque through its non-profit mission provides some of the most affordable and eclectic cultural programming in Hollywood, not just on Friday and Saturday nights, but all week long. This is highly valued by residents, visitors and the local businesses that they patronize.
• How many jobs would be lost if the theatre was sold and the American Cinematheque scaled back its programming?
• And finally, there’s the matter of the Egyptian Theatre’s loading dock. Access to the historic loading dock is currently threatened by potential redevelopment of the parking lots behind the theatre. Commercial developers interested in the space have expressed a willingness to design any project so that the loading dock remains functional, as a courtesy to a non-profit providing a treasured service to the community. Just down Hollywood Boulevard at the Fonda Theatre, that commercial entity is not getting such courteous treatment from the developer next door, and there’s no reason to think that Netflix would. Without access to its loading dock, the Egyptian Theatre would no longer be a viable performance space able to accommodate the type of productions that it has hosted since Sid Grauman opened the theatre in 1922. It would be effectively neutered.
We believe that the American Cinematheque board owes the community a transparent conversation about why such a drastic change in operation is being proposed for the non-profit. We call on them to halt discussions of selling the Egyptian Theatre until such a time that the community is better informed, and the concerns of membership and preservationists are heard. We’ve asked for a meeting with board member Ted Sarandos, who recused himself due to his Netflix ties, but have not heard back.
If you believe that the American Cinematheque board owes Los Angeles an explanation, please share this link with your friends and let the board know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and copy your message to email@example.com (that’s us) and firstname.lastname@example.org (in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office). Or just click the link below to launch an email and add your personal comments.
We almost lost the Egyptian after the Northridge Earthquake; millions in public funds and countless volunteer hours saved it. Lets not lose her now.
*Mission of the American Cinematheque: The American Cinematheque is a viewer-supported cultural organization dedicated exclusively to the public presentation of the moving picture in all its forms. The Cinematheque presents the best of film and video – ranging from the classics to the outer frontiers of the art form. The American Cinematheque was created in 1981 to honor and promote America’s indigenous art form — the moving picture; to present the full range of film and video, not otherwise available, to the widest possible audience; to establish a forum for an on-going dialogue between filmmakers and filmgoers; to provide a high profile exhibition facility for other independent film and video organizations; and to encourage and support new talent by creating a showcase for their work.