Recently, NID Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Gateway Film Center Director Chris Hamel, speaking about the place of movies within our culture, the effects of technology on the industry, and future goals toward growing the film community here in Columbus.
Chris, how did you get involved in this wonderful world/business known as entertainment, and more importantly, how did Gateway Film Center end up becoming your home?
I grew up in a family of movie lovers. I think the one thing anyone has in common in this business is a deep love and respect for motion pictures. I’m very lucky to work with this art form. I worked in movie theaters all through high school and college. I also worked at Drexel Theater for a time, which provided great connections in the local film community.
But when I was working in advertising, I forged a relationship with the people who were developing Gateway. I was asked to write up a plan that would expand Gateway’s reach in Columbus. Gateway Film Center has gone on to do some amazing things here in Columbus, which has brought film lovers and makers together.
This summer left a lot to be desired movie/storytelling wise. Do you feel there is any disconnect between what major studios are offering and what audiences want to see? And are movie theaters suffering because of it?
The industry itself is very strong. We are still averaging 1.8 billion movie tickets sold in the U.S.— that number has been consistent for the last 50 years. And that’s despite some dips in the economy. The studio system, at the moment, seems to be a little too hyper-focused on a certain demographic or playing things safe. That said, 2015 was a very good year for movies. But content is always key. Audiences demand great content and quality storytelling, and if those qualities aren’t there, then yeah... those of us who exhibit the product suffer.
Indie films are very hard to track these days. I remember in 2008, before the rise of Netflix and home streaming, it wasn’t too difficult to see the latest buzzing indie film in your local theater. Being on the releasing side, um... what the heck happened?
Technology has been a game changer. There is more digital content than ever. Tangerine is a great example of a film that was made on a very small budget with a couple of iPhones. It’s hard for independent cinemas to decide which movie to show and not to show because there is constant deluge of content in the digital age.
For me personally, we watch our films, and exhibit films that will resonate culturally in our city and the film community. We’re not just trying to fill seats. We’re trying to spread a true, sincere love of movies.
Ohio offers amazing tax breaks for studio projects. A 35 percent tax credit is almost unheard of, but for the local filmmaker in Columbus, what pipelines should they be utilizing to get their movie screened at Gateway?
First and foremost, Gateway Film Center will do anything it can to help you get your movie screened. Our goal is for filmmakers to see their movie on the big screen. Our Ohio Grown Film program is a commitment we have to Ohio filmmakers to screen their movie free of cost. Every month, we also run a program called Show Us Your Shorts. It is basically an open mic night, but for the short film medium. We screen an hour or so of shorts and the audience votes on what short was the best. The winning filmmaker gets the door with the hope they use that money for future film projects.
What other programs or festivals are available to Ohio filmmakers at Gateway?
We are home to a lot of festivals, including FFOCOL: The Film Festival of Columbus. The Film Center also hosts 20 festivals a year, again, giving filmmakers the opportunity to bring their movies to a wider audience. We also have partnered with OSU, CCAD, Denison University, and other schools to help student filmmakers exhibit their work.
Indie films coming out of LA and NYC have their own niche/style of writing and directing — it is very pretentious IMO and doesn’t seem to resonate outside of those geographic bubbles. Do you feel Gateway has the opportunity to be the “voice” of Midwest cinema?
I’ve found Columbus filmmakers in general create films that relate to larger audiences. Gateway values films that are inclusive, and are culturally relevant. We already have internationally-known talent here in Columbus, but they’re maybe not as known around the city. As time goes on, and we invest in our local artists, I believe a strong crop of filmmakers will emerge from our film community.
To find out more about the Gateway Film Center Membership, click here.
The Gateway Film Center is located at 1550 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43201.
For more information, call 614.247.4433.
About Bryan Kish
Bryan Kish writes reviews and articles for NID Magazine.