The Popcorn Summit

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Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948

Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948

As planned, on Tuesday Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, met with members of Save Film at LACMA, the group attempting to preserve the museum’s 40-year-old weekend film program. What came of it? Hard to say. According to this morning’s LA Times, Govan is going forward with his recently announced ambition to establish a full department of film at the museum — a goal he made public after his initial plan to simply shrink/transform/discard the film program met with resistance. The hitch — he expects a department will require him to raise $5 to 6 million in the very difficult fund raising environment that all museums face right now.

UPDATE: The LA Times has corrected its Wednesday story about Govan’s plans. The paper originally said he wanted to raise $5 to $10 million, but has now amended that to say $5 to $6 million. I’ve duly corrected my own post, whch was based partly on that story.

A real film department at the leading museum in Los Angeles would be a great idea. Let’s hope it happens. What’s not clear to me is why the fate of the much more modest weekend film program should be tied to whether a full department gets up and running. That opens the way to the danger that if the museum can’t raise the full $5 to $6 million, it will throw up its hands and walk away from the more modest effort needed to cover the budget shortfall of the film program, which LACMA has described as $1 million over ten years — about $100,000 a year. If Govan can’t find the larger amount it would still be worth trying to put together $1 million as a kind of sinking fund to cover several years of future deficits in the already existing weekend film program.

In addition to being a prodigious fund raiser, Govan is a very personable guy, so it’s not surprising that there’s also been some bridge building going on lately between him and his critics. He met in New York last week with Martin Scorsese, who’s been active in trying to save the program, to discuss ways to raise the cash. A press release yesterday from the museum says he also met recently with former Time film critic Richard Schickel, who not long ago wrote a scathing criticism of the possibility of losing the program in the LA Times. (And in case you’re wondering, the answer is no, despite the institutional connection, Schickel and I haven’t been in communication on this issue, or for that matter any other.) To put it mildly, Scorsese and Schickel are both well connected in the film industry. They may know where the dollars are buried.

LACMA also announced that museum members could add a $50 special charge to their annual memberships to support the film program, but that’s not the kind of money that’s going to close the budget gap.

You can find the (amended) LA Times story here.