Move comes as org opens Munroe Film Center

As the Film Society of Lincoln Center unveils its $41 million Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center to the public today, it also marks the 42-year-old org’s first step into feature film distribution.

“Our firstrun mission is to play movies from distributors, but also movies that don’t have distribution,” said FSLC exec director Rose Kuo. The initiative offers a share of the Center’s box office to filmmakers, who will retain all rights to their projects. It will largely cull from more than 10 programs and fests that FSLC presents each year, including the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films.

Bingham Ray, hired in April as the center’s firstrun strategy consultant, will oversee the initiative and help FSLC plot further distribution ventures.

“I think more and more distribution is becoming a not-for-profit enterprise,” said Kuo with a laugh. “We didn’t want to leap into it [too quickly] because we felt we didn’t know much about it. That’s the reason why we brought on Bingham Ray, who spent three decades in distribution — to help us think about the possibilities for an organization like this.”

As for the chance of a VOD or online program along the lines of recent Sundance and Tribeca efforts, Kuo says, “I think it’s too early for us to launch into those areas, but we consider everything, so of course that’s part of the conversation.”

Right now their focus is on booking films in the 17,500-square-foot complex, which houses an amphitheater, cafe and two firstrun theatrical venues: the 144-seat Francesca Beale Theater and the 87-seat Howard Gilman Theater. It launches commercial runs June 17 with the Magnolia Pictures’ doc “Page One: Inside The New York Times.”

“Instead of filmmakers having to go out and four-wall a picture, we’re going to look around and say ‘Hey, we showed this picture, and it’s a shame it didn’t get distribution because its such a great film,’ ” Kuo said, adding that they’ll also respond “when we hear from our audiences that they want to see [a] film again.”

“At one time, the New York Film Festival was the place distributors would come and pick up films,” she adds. “When it finishes, there are still many films that don’t have distribution, meaning the audience will never see them beyond a festival run.”

FSLC’s strategy is part of a global movement of fests and arts orgs moving into the distribution arena, including South Korea’s Jeonju and Busan (formerly Pusan) fests.

Independently from their filmmaker program, FSLC is partnering with digital theater network Emerging Pictures and the now-defunct U.K. Film Council to showcase six British indie films, set to be shown around the country this summer with live Q&As featuring key talent.

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