What is a Film Society?
The New Zealand Federation of Film Societies is the umbrella organisation which oversees the interests of affiliated Film Societies throughout the country. It negotiates for and acquires films for distribution, it sets national policy, gives practical and legal advice and generally assists in the running of the affiliated Societies. Membership of the Federation is open to any incorporated, approved Film Society of 30 or more whose rules comply with the Federation's non-profit aims and objectives.
The Federation is maintained by a film levy from affiliated Societies based on the membership of each Society, and whatever grants the Federation can acquire. This funding enables the Federation to share with the Film Festivals a full-time office in Wellington, and finances the acquisition of new film titles each year. The work of the Federation is regulated by a Management Committee which is elected and guided by the Annual General Meeting of the Federation which is attended by representatives from all the affiliated Film Societies.
A list of new film titles is sent to each Society before December from which their programming committees draft a preferred programme. Programme confirmations are sent out to Societies in late December/January. The Wellington Film Society operates from March to November.
In programming for all the Film Societies in New Zealand, the Federation has to allow for the fact that they are catering for larger societies, such as Wellington, which screens in a commercial cinema which can handle digital DCP (and our own Oppo Bluray player), and smaller societies screening in a local hall.
The Film Society movement shares the cost of the Wellington Office located in the same building and with the same staff as the NZ International Film Festival. One staff member is responsible for sourcing a fresh programme for Film Societies each year. These films are obtained from the suppliers to be screened on a 'non theatrical' basis. The Federation makes a one-off payment to the distributors which is not tied to the number of people attending. This means that film-goers cannot be charged for each individual screening. Instead they have to pay an annual membership fee - $47.00 of which goes to the Federation. Individual Film Societies need to charge more to cover their own costs. The general principle is that nobody makes a profit. We are 'non-profit' making societies (although, hopefully we will have an annual surplus!) and we screen most of our films to 'members only'. We also offer a 'sample membership' which allows someone to attend any three films of their choice, with an option to upgrade for a full membership.
In summary, a Film Society can be described as a "non-profit cultural body formed to encourage the appreciation of film from the point of view of art and education, as well as entertainment, by supplementing the film fare provided by local commercial exhibitors, and by hosting seminars, discussions and social events". A Film Society is complementary to the service provided by local commercial exhibitors.
Where the Films Come From
The obvious starting point in the search for Film Society movies is hearing about films. The NZ Federation subscribes to numerous overseas film journals, is on the mailing lists of many overseas film distributors, maintains frequent contact with equivalent overseas organisations and enjoys particularly close relationships with independent distribution agencies in Australasia. An increasing number of New Zealand film personnel visit the world's major Film Festivals and often provide useful first hand accounts of the wares on display. Occasionally they even receive welcome suggestions from Film Society members.
Once it's established that a title may be of interest to Film Society members, the work begins. The first task is to ascertain who holds the New Zealand projection rights to the film. There are a number of ways of obtaining this information; more often than not from friends involved in distribution outside New Zealand.
Of course no rights are worth owning unless a screening copy can also be obtained - subtitled where necessary - of the title in question. In recent years this has proven a major stumbling block. As the 'art-house' market has grown film-owners are increasingly concentrating on DCP exploitation of their foreign-language titles. In recent years some Societies (such as Wellington) have moved into commercial cinemas or university campuses where DCP projectors are available. As a result the Federation is been prepared to negotiate for some films in this format. Nowadays, (fortunately), more and more 'art' films are being issued on the Bluray format.
The programme purchased each year is supplemented with films which are made available from the libraries of the Goethe Institut in Wellington, the Institute Francais courtesy of the Embassy of France, and the Confucius Institute of Victoria University of Wellington. Without their assistance Societies would be hard pressed to field complete programmes in any year. Discussions continue with the cultural agencies of other Governments with varying degrees of success.
In putting together the annual programme every effort is made to encompass as wide a spectrum of film-making styles, subjects and nationalities as possible. One particular strand in the programming is to identify a season of films that hopefully will attract funding support. This requires a case to be made - supported by letters commending the projected programme. But finally the choice comes down to the simplest of considerations: every effort is made to find out what is available and the best of what is found is programmed.
Considering the difficulties involved the Federation has been surprisingly and consistently successful in assembling strong programmes over the years. The number of major titles which have fallen through the nets of commercial distribution and into the Film Society, is gratifying. All of these films have enjoyed commercial success almost everywhere else in the English speaking world. Yet, for many years the only way to see them in New Zealand was to join the Film Society. Clearly the primary aim of Film Society exhibition - to supplement the choice of films available to the New Zealand film goer - is still a valid one.
- adapted from How To Organise and Run a Film Society, New Zealand edition.