9/30: Turning the Mall Into Movie Nirvana

The Broken Circle Breakdown-Belgian director Felix van Groeningen’s THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is among the more than 20 sneak preview films screening in Chuck Rose’s Arthouse Film Festival, starting October 1st at Monmouth Mall. 

There’s the notion of the Best Kept Secret…and then there’s the sort of gem that Hides in Plain Sight; in this case for the 20-plus years that the Arthouse Film Festival has been operating inside one of the most heavily trafficked locales in Monmouth County.

Formerly known as the Filmmakers Symposium series, Arthouse Fest is a twice-yearly slate of sneak-preview screenings from major Hollywood studios and indie distributors; a schedule of ten-week Fall and Spring sessions that unspools at the AMC Loews Monmouth Mall 15 multiplex on Tuesday evenings, beginning on the first of October (a concurrent series of Monday night screenings takes place at the AMC Loews on Route 22 in Mountainside).

It’s the work of one man — Chuck Rose, a unassuming guy from Brielle and a lifelong cinephile who’s worked variously as a film prof, a story editor, a director, and a correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter. And, while it’s not necessarily a cheap ticket (a five week half-session subscription runs $133), it’s a real opportunity to see some buzzed-about features on the big screen, long before anyone else…and in a setting that’s blissfully free of talking, texting, and any of the other behaviors that make a night at the multi such a pondersome purchase.

If you’d followed the Arthouse series from its inception, you’d have been among the first people on the planet to catch everything from Shawshank to Schindler’s…and you’d have been present for guest interviews with the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ethan Hawke, Famke Janssen, Viggo Mortenson, Aaron Sorkin, and Kevin Smith. The Fall 2013 session promises fare like director Steve McQueen’s highly anticipated 12 Years A Slave, in addition to Meryl Streep in August: Osage County and Nicole Kidman as Grace of Monaco; as well as the latest from Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey), the Coens (Inside Llewyn Davis), Clooney (The Monuments Men with Matt Damon), and David O. Russell (American Hustle with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence).

Features are generally announced close to screening time and never advertised; the idea is that it’s absolutely worth dropping what you’re doing to see these films, and to maybe take part in a Q&A with a very special invited guest. So how does Chuck Rose do it? Your upperWETside correspondent decided to investigate…

DF_02828.CR2The buzzworthy feature 12 YEARS A SLAVE — a film that some are talking up as a potential Best Picture Oscar — gets a sneak peek as part of Chuck Rose’s series. 

upperWETside: You’ve been doing these events for almost a quarter of a century now…and there are still quite a few people who haven’t clued in to what you’re doing twice a year at the local megaplex. How would you sum up the Arthouse FilmFest for the uninitiated?  

CHUCK ROSE: What I do in the fall is get as many big films as I can that might be up for awards, and mix them with the kind of really fine indies that might just play for a week up in the city. If you’re interested in seeing the films that get nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, the Fall series is the one to catch.

I’m providing a service…bringing audiences the best of what’s out there, beyond all the sequels and superheroes and adaptations from video games. My selections are based on merit, not money.

Of course a lot of what gets shown has to do with whether it’s something we’re able to actually see, or actually get, or get people to make the trip. I can’t get every single thing I want, but I’ve been able to screen a lot of very interesting things over the years. We had the world premiere showing of The Shawshank Redemption, before anyone else! And we were only the second people in the world to screen Schindler’s List…at the time, the studio didn’t know what to do with it; Spielberg got to make it in return for doing the second Jurassic Park.

What are you particularly excited about showing this time around? 

This year we’ve got 12 Years A Slave, which is the hottest film in the world right now…a lot of people say it will win Best Picture. And I can say that anyone who’s signed up for the first session will definitely get a chance to see it. We should be showing it some time early in the first five weeks.

We’re also showing The Broken Circle Breakdown, which is a huge hit in Europe…it’s a crazy stew of subjects…politics, cancer, music…that don’t get talked about in American movies. I’m expecting the director from Belgium to be here for the festival.

You must have a Rolodex the size of a tractor wheel…and I get the impression that you’re very hands-on throughout the entire process of assembling these events. Or do you have a committee that helps you sift through all the available films? 

I have someone who helps with signing people up, but I basically curate these things all by myself…I mean, how am I going to put together a committee in New Jersey? It’s not cheap to rent the theaters, and I have to pay for the projector also…but I’ve done pretty well for suburban New Jersey, which even though it’s just a short trip from Manhattan is not on the radar screen for film people.

When they’re busy with press junkets in New York, they usually don’t want to get stuck in tunnel traffic coming to Jersey. Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, Sundance are destinations…and with no offense to Eatontown, Monmouth Mall is not on the short list of destinations.

And yet, between Monmouth Mall and Mountainside you’ve managed to persuade some notable people to take part in these screenings. You’ve told me the story of how your film school professor brought Alfred-fucking-HITCHCOCK to your classroom; how that was a pivotal moment in your future career path…and your excitement over being able to interview these actors and filmmakers doesn’t seem to have become a routine thing for you after all these years…

Last month I had one of the greatest days of my life…Paramount put together a special screening of the movie Labor Day (at NYC’s School of Visual Arts Theatre), and they needed someone to do a Q&A with Kate Winslet…who was pregnant, and who could only do one day of press in New York…and with Josh Brolin. So I found myself sitting in Sumner Redstone’s stratolounger, spending 30 minutes talking to Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet for an invited audience of 500 actors. They also broadcast it to an L.A. audience of 500.

It was fantastic; they were phenomenal people to talk to, and after a few minutes they loosened up and it became an enjoyable, not-for-prime-time thing. Kate seemed very tired at first, but really perked up as we went on, and Josh told some great stories about the making of No Country for Old Men, which I believe is just one of the greatest films ever made.

That’s interesting to me, because about the only times we usually see or hear from you are when you’re gearing up for another film series. Are you really just busying yourself with these events in those months between, or are you involved with other projects?

I need that time to prepare…I spend eight hours a day on Indiewire; talking to people in the business; trying to figure out which of the more than 60,000 films that get released around the world are the best…it’s a full time job, and unless you’re seven days a week, all movies all the time like me, you miss so much of what’s out there. I’m amazed at how many people…people who you would think would be in the loop on this sort of thing…will come up to me and ask ‘what’s good out there?’

Okay, I’ll bite: what IS good out there? Please tell me, because as a guy who was raised on those really quirky, adult films of the early 1970s I’m a little underwhelmed by the majority of what I’m seeing these days. Are there just no new ideas anymore, or is it just me in my inevitable slide into being an old crankcase? 

There’s a real lack of original stories. In 1981, seven out of the ten top grossers were original stories…then in 2012, ZERO out of ten. Foreign box office, ten years ago, was 30 percent of the pie…now it’s 70 percent. So there are are factors at work that weren’t in play before. But you should know that for every Lone Ranger bomb on their hands, they’ve got an Iron Man 4 that’s going to make them a billion dollars. And there’s a lot of that sort of thing in the pipeline…even if the industry were to transform itself overnight, start coming up with original concepts, it would still take three years to turn this ship around.

In the meantime, we can put on our berets and attend your Arthouse Film Festivals, which I’ve looked into here and there over the years. I’ve appreciated the chance to watch a film in a spiffy modern multiplex without the mall crowd in attendance…and I appreciate getting to see stuff like MAGNOLIA, which even with major stars in the cast never saw any kind of a widespread release… 

You can put on your beret and get the art film experience. It’s a private screening sort of atmosphere…nobody’s talking to their friend on the phone; no one’s texting; people are engaged with the film and take part in a discussion afterward. It’s an environment that just doesn’t exist in the multiplex.

Take it here for advance subscriptions to the Arthouse Film Festival ($133 per five week session, with “flex” options and discounts for full ten week registration) — and email privatescreenings@gmail.com for the most up to date information on event schedulings, featured film titles and guests.