If you’ve ever wondered why we haven’t screened a digital DCP of Blade Runner (1982) since the installation of our awesome 4K digital projector, then Wednesday’s late change in programming is probably a really good departure point for a bit of chat about those necessary and sometimes prickly things called theatrical screening rights.
Though we talk about this often, it’s so important we think it’s worth re-stating; we would love to just pick the films we want to screen and programme those (and yes, before you ask, the first thing we would show would be the original Star Wars Trilogy!) Unfortunately, and beyond whether or not there is an available format to screen from (70mm, 35mm, 4K or 2DCP, digital et al), there must be valid theatrical screening rights for us and indeed any cinema, society or organiser of a public screening to show a film.
Theatrical rights will usually have a termed option (most often five years) and then, once those rights expire it’s a matter for legal negotiation between rights holders and potential distributors as to whether or not they wish to renew. If not the doors are open for another party to try to obtain the rights, which come at multi-thousand (sometimes in the tens of thousand) dollar prices. Even after rights are purchased, the producer always gets around 50% of rentals earned. As you would expect with anything involving legal contracts, this can take considerable time and money to confirm. This is also why a film might have theatrical rights one year and then no longer have them the next. Returning briefly to Blade Runner, this is why we last screened it in 35mm in 2010 and since have been unable to screen it.
This is also the reason why we were so excited to finally be able to screen Labyrinth (1986)and soon The NeverEnding Story (1984) – Astor proprietor George Florence has been looking into rights for NES for around nine years and now, thanks to Park Circus, acting on our tip, now representing the film, we can finally screen it. And yes, we do still have our fingers crossed for The Dark Crystal (1982).
But back to Wednesday and why we had such a late change to our programming. Of course at the time of printing our calendar (both current and upcoming) we were unaware that the rights for Apocalypse Now: Redux might expire before our scheduled screenings. Once notified that the screening rights had expired and as such our screenings could not go ahead we had two concerns: 1) an expectant audience who ought to be able to trust our calendar and come see the films we’ve scheduled and advertised, and 2) the fate for the incredibly rare and stunning 35mm Technicolor IB film print [Ed's note: the technology that created this stunning film print no longer exists, so even IF someone wanted to, another print COULD NOT be made.]. Often what happens when rights expire is that film prints are junked (destroyed) but thankfully we can assure everyone that the Apocalypse Now: Redux print is safe and being held until new rights can be negotiated.
Even though we began the process of trying to sort out an agreement in time to let us at least be able to honour the screenings already booked, we received late notice Wednesday afternoon that the process could not be approved until the request was officially signed off on by the rights owners. Although we have made inroads and do both hope and believe we will have confirmed something in time for the June 12th screening later this year, we were unable at the last minute to receive the approval we thought we would be granted to screen Wednesday night.
We want you to know that it wasn’t for lack of trying that the screening of Apocalypse was replaced by Django Unchained (2012). We also want you to know that we’ll keep working on it from now until however long it takes to get the film back up on our big screen. Apocalypse Now: Redux has been an Astor staple for years and every calendar has a space for it. One of the most significant reasons for this is due to the rarity of the print, made with a now past process that, as mentioned, can never be replicated. But, even as much as we love the print, and admire the incredible technical process to create it, without an audience the print is just a physical object in a box. For Coppola’s vision and the Technicolor frames to mean anything, they need to be seen by an audience in the original intended theatrical environment. It is our undertaking to bring what we consider to be the most sensational viewing experiences to the big screen. Apocalypse Now: Redux is one of them and we fully intend to keep it on our calendars.
Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.
To keep updated with news about future screenings of Apocalypse Now: Redux and other Astor related screenings and giveaways, keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and subscribe to our weekly E-news via our website.