Why ‘Independent’ and ‘Art house’?

There is already a site or two devoted to the cinemas of New Zealand, such as www.flicks.co.nz, which directs you to a range of excellent individual websites for a range of cinemas around New Zealand. It is also dedicated to promoting new or upcoming releases–especially those on wide distribution around the country. The point of difference for cinemasofnz.info is that it is not about promoting individual films (old or new) but, instead, is about celebrating  film-going in New Zealand–and going to films at particular places, for we have a remarkable array of choice in both the North and South Island (and several smaller islands).  

NZ Cinemas www.nzcinemas.co.nz lists 113 film venues around New Zealand; my offerings will be fewer as I am not including the big chains such as Event Cinemas, Hoyts and Reading.  They serve a purpose, screening mainsteam fare and providing a predictable film-going experience, but they are not my focus.

There  are various connotations  of art house cinema; it is often synonymous with ‘foreign film’  (strangely,  we don’t refer to American films as ‘foreign’) or ‘foreign-language films’.  But it can also include local (New Zealand-produced) films, documentaries and retrospectives of older films.  The easiest way of defining art house cinema is by where it gets to be seen and by whom ie in small, independently-owned cinemas. art galleries, film societies, in school or university classroom etc.  Seldom will you find an art house film screening at your local Event or Reading multiplex. Possible exceptions are so-called ‘cross-over’ films ie foreign language films with broad appeal because of their universal themes, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Slumdog Millionaire 

Arthouse films tend to appeal to older, educated film-goers–not so much to males aged 18 to 24, who comprise the major slice of film-goers in New Zealand.  Film choices are often determined more by modest promotion, critic’s reviews and–most importantly–word of mouth recommendations, rather than the hype and publicity which precedes the arrival of the next American blockbuster.

Independent cinemas are those which do not belong to one of the major cinema exhibition/distribution chains in New Zealand ie  Event Cinemas (owned and operated by Amalgamated Holdings, Australia), Hoyts Corporation (Australia) and Reading Cinemas (USA). They tend to be locally-owned and operated by New Zealanders (or community trusts), even though are often dependent on the larger players for access to film titles and distribution.  Independents also tend to be stand-alone venues in city centres or suburbs or small towns (in original or converted premises) and seldom associated with large retail settings, such as ‘anchor’ sites in shopping malls, which is the norm for multiplexes.   In the early decades of film-going in New Zealand, independent cinemas dominated–until ascendency of the New Zealand duopoly of Kerridge Odeon and Amalgamated chains, who largely controlled film distribution and exhibition in New Zealand in the latter part of the twentieth century.  We now have more players in the game but the majority of them remain overseas based.

Of course, there is a degree of ambiguity in such descriptions: art house cinemas often screen a narrow  selection of films, which circulate around the country via specific distributors, such as the Australian-based distributors Hopscotch or Madman. Also, a number of independently-owned cinemas just show mainstream titles or ‘family films’.

 A good number of cinemas are also part of the film festival circuit, which include the annual New Zealand International Film Festival and the Italian Film Festivals, or host their local film society or film clubs. In the New Zealand in 2014, for example, you could find titles such as The Lunch Box or Pride screening in most art house cinemas throughout New Zealand.

So, it is not always necessarily the films being screened which distinguish independents or art house cinemas from mainstream, multiplex cinemas in New Zealand.  What is more important in distinguishing independents or art house venues is the nature of the community they serve, their history  and ownership, their architecture, their special features, and their willingness to experiment

  Ownership ranges from community-based trusts to long-established private ownership to recent one-man (or woman) ventures but in the context of this site, it does not mean ownership by Australian-based companies or chains such as Event or Hoyts. 

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