College film fan clubs faced with rights fees for movies

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

CHICAGO -- Organizers of a film club at Chicago's Columbia College want to be able to show avant-garde, foreign or other independent movies as a way to expose students to more than just mainline cinema, but their plans have stalled because it could cost hundreds of dollars to show a film.

A similar group formed several years ago at Illinois State University in Normal recently received a bill for $8,000 from the distributor of some of the movies it has shown and now wonders whether the club will survive.

"To be able to watch them with a bunch of other people that appreciate them like you do in that kind of environment is a great experience," says Lindsay Kralovetz, 21, a Columbia College film student from Green Bay, Wis.

But film distributors say they must charge screening fees to protect the producers' right to make a profit, and New Yorker Films recently sent its bill to the Illinois State University Cinema Society after learning of its screenings through schedules posted on the Internet. The society had failed to get permission to show the films in a public setting.

"I would call it a shakedown," said ISU English professor Curt White, the cinema society's adviser. "The effect of what they are doing is, there isn't going to be any alternative cinema here."

The law says those who give a public showing of a movie must pay a fee, even if admission is not charged. The only exception is movies shown to students in a classroom as part of a course, which falls under the "face-to-face" teaching exemption, said Linda Duchin, vice president of non-theatrical sales at New Yorker Films.

Columbia College film instructor Michael Humphreys said he inquired about showing the 1932 classic "Freaks," directed by Dracula director Tod Browning. The cost was $310, more than 60 percent of the group's $500 budget, he said.

The ISU Cinema Society formed in 2000 and has shown movies weekly to a group of usually 10 to 20 students with no admission charge. Its films ranged from director Peter Greenaway's "The Pillow Book" to the documentary "Fog of War."

Students said they were unaware of the law, and they rented or purchased the DVDs without contacting the company. The group can't afford the rights fees to show 15 movies a semester, said William Barker, 29, of Chicago, the club's lead student coordinator, who calls New Yorker Films' bill a "death blow."

New Yorker Films, however, says the university should show that it values film and pay the money. Companies won't take a risk of distributing alternative films in the United States if they don't get paid, Duchin said.

"If these films aren't supported, they aren't going to be released in this country," she said.

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