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Art House Project comes to Portland

With the Golden Globes and Oscars dominating film news, the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland is celebrating a victory of its own.

The independent movie theater received word about a month ago that it was one of 18 theaters across the nation chosen to be a part of the Sundance Institute Art House Project.

“They just swoop down,” says Richard Beer, who is the artistic director of Film Action Oregon, the nonprofit that manages the Hollywood Theatre. “It was really a huge surprise to us.”

The Art House Project is an offshoot of the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, which takes place Jan. 15 to 20 in Park City, Utah. The aim of the project is to cultivate an audience for the festival’s more low-profile progeny — those small but worthy films that walk away from the hype of Park City without a major distribution deal.

“People always think about Sundance as the festival where somebody will come and buy a film for $10 million,” Beer says. But only a small percentage of indie films that screen in the festival end up with a studio deal, he says. Sundance is looking for ways that more of its films can reach more audiences.

Beer believes that far too many films fall by the wayside. When he attends festivals, which he does four or five times a year, Beer seeks out the more offbeat offerings. A large number of them never go on to regular theatrical runs, even on the art house circuit.

“It’s amazing how few of them ever get out there,” he says.

‘A big shock’
When programming, Beer regularly contacts filmmakers directly to get their work on screen. He has been with the Hollywood since 1997. Since that time, the venue has hosted close to 700 local film premieres, he says, from school projects to serious features.

Film Action Oregon also runs a number of programs to inspire and assist local filmmakers. There are 23 projects being produced under the nonprofit’s umbrella.

“That’s one of the things that the people at the Sundance Institute were looking at was how we were involved in the local film community,” Beer says. “That was one of the deciding factors.”

Because the Art House Project doesn’t require an application process, and because Sundance is such a big name in indie film, the Hollywood Theatre’s selection was unexpected.

“It’s sort of a big shock, sort of like when one of those wild cards shows up in the Oscars,” Beer says. “We’re excited about all the things it will do for us.”

The Hollywood will have access to exclusive screenings of films from the Sundance Film Festival. The theater becomes part of a network of other indie theaters across the country, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York City, the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, and the Pickford Cinema in Bellingham, Wash. And Film Action Oregon will be able to expedite the process by which local films can apply to be screened at Sundance.

The selection does not include a cash prize or any kind of funding. However, the theater will be able to use the Sundance logo. That name recognition should give the nonprofit a boost, Beer says, especially as the organization launches a fundraising drive some time in the next year.

Getting a nod from Sundance is also a welcome vote of confidence. Convincing the moviegoing public to take a chance on obscure and unusual films is a daunting task, especially in a world where advertising can turn a big-budget movie into a household name overnight.

“It’s getting things seen that should be seen, rather than 400 screens showing the exact same thing,” Beer says. “That’s what Sundance wants to do, and that’s what we’ve always been about.”

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