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What do we do, here at Milestone?

Posted on June 07, 2019 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

Well, we release films, of course...  but for us, distribution is a process that also entails rediscovery, restoration, and a whole lot of research. And in recent years, we have added another layer to the process — going back and re-restoring films we premiered decades ago. Combining powerful digital restoration tools with even more study and information, we are now able to make some of the gorgeous films we have long loved, even more visually thrilling and powerful.

A great example of the Milestone process is the new digital restoration of Mikhail Kalatozov and Sergei Urusevsky’s masterpiece, 
I Am Cuba (USSR-Cuba, 1964). When we first released the film in 1995, it had played (unsubtitled) at two US film festivals, but was largely unknown around the world. Almost a quarter of a century later — thanks in large part to Milestone’s rediscovery of the film and the support of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola — I Am Cuba has transformed the cinematographer’s art and is acclaimed as a cornerstone of international filmmaking.

First up:, the restoration.

Way back in the early 1990s, when Milestone first decided to try to license I Am Cuba, the questions was: How? Our friends at the Telluride and San Francisco Film Festivals had screened an unsubtitled print from Russia in 1992 and 1993. So it seemed that Mosfilm should be our first stop — but we did not even know how to contact the studio. In those pre-Internet days, a fax number could be a lifeline, so Milestone co-founder Dennis Doros paged through a stack of old copies of Variety until he found a listing. Next came protracted negotiations between Milestone and the Moscow-based production company — negotiations that were marked by some inevitable mutual mistrust and cultural misunderstandings. But persistence paid off, and so did we… after wiring more money than we could afford to Russia, we received a 35mm interpositive fine grain and 35mm mag tracks for the film from Mosfilm and the Russian archive Gosfilmofond (along with three 35mm prints). Those preservation materials proved to be key in the 2018 restoration.

In recent years we dreamed about starting a 4K digital restoration of I Am CubaWe wanted to improve the image quality, reduce or eliminate an annoying flicker, and clean up bad splices, photochemical blotches, scratches, and various other problems typical of any film of that age. But the cost of the project kept delaying the start of the restoration. Sometimes cash flow can really slow down even the most passionate restorationist! 

But then Milestone received an email from director Julian Temple, who was producing a new documentary Habañeros on the history of Havana. Temple had spent a small fortune for the rights to license clips from I Am Cuba from a European distributor of the film, only to find that the materials delivered were inferior and unusable. Temple’s production company and Milestone agreed to split the cost of a new 4K scan (to be done at Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland) from Milestone’s 35mm interpositive.

Milestone then took Colorlab’s 4K transfer to Metropolis Post in New York, where Jack Rizzo’s crew of Jason Crump (colorist) and Ian Bostick (restoration artist) spent hour after hour meticulously timing, cleaning, stabilizing, and de-flickering the original scan. Unlike most films that have traditional sets and cinematography, I Am Cuba’s wildly moving camera made it impossible to use the standard “automatic” computer programs to clean up scratches and dust. Most of that work had to be done manually by Ian, who spent many days working on the project. Milestone came in near the end to approve and fine tune the restoration. 

Top a 1995 photo of 63 cans of I Am Cuba film elements covering the floor of our one-bedroom home/office. 
Bottom the high-tech screening and post production facilities at Metropolis Post in NYC.

Step 2, the trailers. 

n 1995, we worked with post-production wizard Bob Warmflash to create a trailer that would introduce this unknown film to filmgoers in the US and Canada. His version worked so well that the film played in 120 theaters in the first two years of its release. 

Planning the 2018 release, we turned to our friend and former intern, Adrian Rothschild, who has cut so many of Milestone’s best trailers. We met Adrian when he was a college student at Wesleyan University and have cheered on his many career successes — he is now a producer at Viacom. We”re so glad he still finds time to work on our projects. Adrian’s trailer highlights both the extraordinary visual beauty and the Spanish-only soundtrack of the new 4K restoration. In the 1995 release of 
I Am Cuba, the soundtrack featured a Russian overdub of the Spanish soundtrack. So you would hear a woman narrator recite “Soy, Cuba” and then immediately a male Russian voice would chant “Я, куба” (Ya, Kuba). It was weird and in some ways it added to the disorientation created by the film’s dizzying visuals. But for the new restoration, we were able to marry the Spanish-only soundtrack with the crystal-clear images. The final result helps the viewer focus on the film’s compelling narrative.

The original 1995 I Am Cuba trailer…

and Adrian Rothschild’s brilliant 2018 trailer for the 4K restoration:

 

Next, the press kits. 

Right from the start, we have been obsessed with making Milestone’s press materials as insanely comprehensive as possible — New Yorker film critic Richard Brody has even urged us to publish them. But time has definitely allowed us to amplify our efforts. The original I Am Cuba press kit was a meaty 17 pages… but the 2018 version has grown to 50. And back in the 1990s, when press kits were distributed on paper (remember, this was before there was an Internet!), we were limited by our Black & White photocopier (yes, we had one in our one-bedroom home/office). Happily, we are now able to add color images… plus two decades of additional research. 

Read the 1995 I AM CUBA press kit

Read the 2018 I AM CUBA press kit

Finally, the posters.
In 1995, we worked with our friend, Steve Siers to develop a poster for I Am Cuba that reflected  the decade in which the film was made — the 1960s. Steve was especially inspired by the film posters of Saul Bass, which one writer described as “bold designs… matched by bold and expressive color palettes… [that] incorporate finely honed lettering and typography.” 

While we have long loved this design (a framed poster has been on the wall in the Milestone office for decades), when we started to plan the 2018 release of the 4K restoration, we knew it was time for something new. This time we turned to our former intern and friend Lauren Caddick, whose extraordinary designs have elevated many Milestone releases, including In the Land of the Head Hunters, ShoesStrange Victory, and Rocco and His Brothers. Lauren was inspired by the color palette and design of the Cuban flag, as well as the unique narrative
structure of the film. Now the two posters hang side by side at Milestone.

Posted in Adrian Rothschild, Bob Warmflash, I Am Cuba, Ian Bostick, Jack Rizzo, Jason Crump, Lauren Caddick, Metropolis Post, restoration, Steve Siers

Apache Skateboard’s Doug Miles brings his art and activism to the screen

Posted on March 01, 2019 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

More than a decade ago — shortly after Milestone released The Exiles, the great independent documentary about the lives of Native Americans in Los Angeles in the late 1950s — we received an amazing email from an artist living and working on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

Doug Miles instantly became a friend — and one of our heroes. Doug wanted us to know that he was creating art inspired by the film. As Doug described in a 2008 press release:

The stark vision of director Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles serves as the template for the (often misunderstood) stark artistic vision(s) of Douglas Miles as he re-creates scenes from the long-awaited critically acclaimed film, The Exiles As The Exiles film experiences a limited release and renaissance, Douglas Miles/Apache Skateboards teams up with The Exiles producers to promote its singular filmic vision of hard times in the land of plenty.

A film ahead of its time, The Exiles (1958-61) captures in gritty film noir tradition, the story of Native Americans in Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill District as they struggle to make a life for themselves during the B.I.A.’s “relocation period.” This was the B.I.A.’s last major attempt at forced integration of Native people into American society.

Using spray paint, exacto knives and found objects, film stills from The Exiles film come to life via Douglas Miles’s singular vision. His guerrilla art method provides the backdrop for the collision of two work of art/artists exploring the so-called native experience. A perfect combination. The results being a one-two punch that builds interest and respect for The Exiles film, director, music, and cast.  

And when Doug learned that we had tried hard but unsuccessfully to locate the lone surviving cast member from the film, he took up the quest, going door to door on the San Carlos Reservation until he found someone who had contact information for Yvonne Williams. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to tell her that the film was opening around the country and to send DVDs for herself and her family. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Over the years, we have stayed in contact and watched his art and activism grow. This year, he has collaborated with filmmaker Audrey Buchanan to create a powerful and moving short film The Mystery of Now about the meaning and mission of Apache Skateboards and the community it represents and serves. National Geographic chose the film as an official selection for its Short Film Showcase. We are honored that Doug has allowed us to share the film here:

Doug also sent us a wonderful interview in which he talks about his commitment to art activism.

Why is this film so important from a visibility perspective?

It’s no mystery that the history of Native American people in this country has been overlooked, misrepresented, and maligned to create a more heroic narrative for settlers, to sell books, land, and movie tickets.

This film pushes back at the invisibility that plagues Native people working in the arts and their communities. In the middle of this cultural clash of stereotypes and battles for agency, one thing that has never ceased, is Native creativity in the making of art. Simply stated, Native art is the voice of Native people. In our creativity, we recreate ourselves and in doing so, we create our world.

The current population of San Carlos, Arizona is about 14,000. The poverty level hovers about about 60% in this eastern Arizona town. For some (not all) Indian Nations, this is typical. In spite of this, what Apache Skateboards has done in its 17-year journey of creativity and skateboarding is nothing short of amazing.

What makes your skateboard brand unique?

Apache Skateboards started out as a father, making art for his son, but since then has grown into a movement sparking interest in skateboarding across Native communities for over 15 years. 

The art I designed for Apache Skateboards paired young skaters with historical imagery encouraging them to remember Native heroes of the past, while in the present, utilizing skateboarding as a conduit for Native pride.

What's the message you want viewers to walk away with?

“Apache Skateboards is the power of the past, the key to the future and the mystery of now.” With this short phrase I wanted to encapsulate what the Apache Skateboard brand/movement means, where it’s at and where it’s going. “The power of the past” refers to the history of Apache people, their struggle and victories over historical oppression. “The key to the future” refers to the skate-team itself and the young people that work with Apache Skateboards. They are the “key” to the future of our community. “The mystery of now” refers to our everyday destiny and the blessing of our lives in creating art, fun, and joy together. I felt if I could create art, kids could use it and it would change the way we not only looked at art, but it would change the way we looked at our community, how we interacted with the world and how we viewed ourselves. I think together we’ve succeeded. 

Posted in American Indians, Apache Skateboards, Audrey Buchanan, Doug Miles, Douglas Miles, National Geographic Short Film Showcase, Native Americans, San Carlos Apache Reservation, San Carlos Reservation, The Exiles, The Mystery of Now

Thank you to the Art House Convergence and Spotlight Cinema Network!

Posted on February 03, 2019 by Amy Heller | 2 Comments

Once in a Lifetime!

When Alison Kozberg and Ronnie Ycong called Milestone to tell us that we (Dennis Doros and Amy Heller) had been chose to receive the  2019 Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award, we were floored, gobsmacked, at a loss for words.
Little by little, we gathered our thoughts and managed to put down on paper — and then deliver aloud at last month's AHC Conference — our many, many thanks — for the award and for the wonderful community that we have called home for decades.
Here’s what we said:

Amy: 

Thank you to the Art House Convergence, Spotlight Cinema Network, and all of you here for this really incredible honor. I use that word, because I still can’t quite believe it. It has taken me weeks to come up with this short speech — I hope my words convey how much this means to me.

Back in 1985, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a runaway grad student newly returned to New York City with absolutely no idea what to do next. A former boss sent me on to First Run Features where I began as an unpaid intern and met my first mentor in film, the amazing Nancy Gerstman, who remains my very dear friend. As Nancy’s assistant, I got all the glamorous jobs, like making cold calls (John Toner, I think you were my second ever call) and phoning for grosses. This was a simpler time, when there were no cell phones, no fax machines, no Internet… so if you wanted the box office numbers, you called. And the film I was phoning about, Michael Apted’s 28 Up was then screening all across the country — in 16mm only!

The thing is, I actually loved making those calls. I had previously worked in publishing, volunteered for progressive causes, and studied history, but while I was making those calls for grosses to exhibitors like Jim Emerson at the Market Street Theater, Anita Monga at Renaissance Rialto, Richard Herskowitz at Cornell Cinema, and Gary Kaboly at Pittsburgh Filmmakers I found my tribe, my community, you

The next year, 1986, I moved on to New Yorker Films where I first worked as assistant to Dan Talbot and Jose Lopez. Here again, I was so lucky to be learning from some of wisest and kindest people in this business. Part of my job was coordinating with the managers of the Metro, Cinema Studio, and Lincoln Plaza Theaters, so I also got the opportunity to be part of the day-to-day work of exhibition. Later I moved over to work as a nontheatrical booker at New Yorker, where my customers and friends included Brent Kliewer in Santa Fe, Hart Wegner at UNLV, Eleanor Nichols in Sonoma, California, Dan Ladely in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Ann Brandman at the Honolulu Museum of Art. I am grateful to them all, and to so many more.
The Market Street Cinema in Seattle, 1985
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Then in 1988, at a film party thrown by my friend and coworker, Jeff Capp, I met another member of my tribe. Dennis and I have been together now for more than 30 years. In 1990 we married and started Milestone together.
Dennis and Amy, back in the 1980s
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Since then, my list of film friends and teachers has grown to include fellow distributors Wendy Lidell, Adam Yauch, Jeff Massino, Emily Russo, Dan Berger, and Dennis’s wonderful mentor, Don Krim. I have also had the privilege of working with so many great exhibitors, including Bruce Goldstein (the first programmer to book a Milestone series) and Karen Cooper at Film Forum, Peggy Parsons at the National Gallery, Connie White, Richard Peña, John Ewing in Cleveland, Toby Leonard and Stephanie Silverman at the Belcourt, Carol Johnson and her great team at the Amherst Cinema, Rachel Jacobson, Harris Dew and John Vanco at the IFC Center, Florence Almozini and Dennis Lim at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Dave Filipi at the Wexner. I promised a short speech, or I could definitely go on and on…

My film community has also grown to include archivists, scholars, filmmakers, and journalists from around the world. I am grateful to David Bordwell, Ian Christie, Jean Jacques Varret, Christophe Terhechte, Jedrzej Sablinski, Margaret Bodde, Ronald Gray, Dan Streible, Ally Field, Richard Koszarski, Charles Burnett, Philip Haas, John Canemaker, Eleanor Antin, Ava Du Vernay, Richard Brody, Bill Gosden, and Billy Woodberry. Former colleagues and interns including Cindi Rowell, Fumiko Takagi, Michael Bellavia, Isabel Cadalso, Megan Powers, Zach Zahos, Anke Mebold, Peter Miele, Nadja Tennstedt, Maia Krivoruk, Lauren Caddick, Adrian and Dylan Rothschild, Sarah Lipkin, Victor Vazquez, Austin Renna, Vincent Mollica, Angeli Reyes and my favorite, Adam Doros, are still members of our extended film family. And I would like to also thank my parents, who would have loved this, my beloved sister Karen Key, and my guys, Dennis and Adam. Friends like these at once make life bigger and more interesting and make the world smaller and kinder. I am incredibly grateful to them all.

Which brings me to this room and why we are all here today. Despite storms and delays, we all made our way here to Midway, Utah. Why? To be a community and to celebrate and strengthen the ties that make this community strong. And we schlepped here even though in 2019 there are so many other ways we could communicate. So why aren’t we all home now, tapping away at SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Signal, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, or even just texting or emailing?

The answer is the same reason that we all work to get people into movie theaters. Because all these media absolutely pale compared to the power of actually being in the presence of another person and sharing space and experiences with them. However convenient it may be to post a birthday greeting on a friend’s wall, it can never be as meaningful as a phone rendition of Happy Birthday (in my case, off-key) or actually sharing a celebratory dinner (with cake and candles).

Looking back on my decades in film, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

First, for me, networking is okay but collegiality is better and friendship is much better still. Over the years, I’ve been able to work with so many people I esteem and love — and it has been a privilege and a joy.

Second, all camaraderie requires intimacy which requires contact. Honestly, I miss the days of talking at length with my exhibitors. I just haven’t found that texts and short emails generally lead to new friendships. I became friends with many of my customers because we talked on the phone for hours and got to know one another. I knew if they were fans of Abba, or were recovering from shingles, or once lived in Elmira, NY, or had twelve-year-old twins — and they knew about my life too. I met other film friends in person, here at the AHC, at film festivals, and at conferences of the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

Third, I have become very wary of social media. I think it is so easy to get lulled into confusing social media interactions for real human connection. Also, we need to keep in mind that these are for-profit businesses run by huge corporations for the purpose of aggregating data — our data. And we know that they have repeatedly misused that private information to the detriment of individuals and to democracy. And I worry about the ability of hackers and bots to manipulate social media to polarize and alienate us from one another. I think we have all seen that happen.

Finally, looking forward, I really want to keep growing my worldwide film family! Cinema is a universal art form that embraces everything — literature, theater, dance, photography, comedy, animation, history, mythology, science, music — and my cinephile community is international, diverse, challenging, funny, crazy, thought-provoking, and the just, the best.

One of our international cinephile friends is Yvonne Ng, who serves with Dennis on the AMIA board, lives in Prague, and works for Witness, a great nonprofit organization that uses audiovisual technology to support civic participation and human rights around the world. We are immensely grateful to the wonderful team at the Spotlight Cinema Network for donating $2500 to Witness as part of our Lifetime Award. This donation will help Witness’s programs to create and archive evidence of military actions in Syria, to teach young people of color in Brazil how to document police violence, and to monitor the abuse of immigrants in the United States. We love that Witness is employing same technology that brings feature films to our screens to make the world safer and more just. The work that Witness does is incredibly tough and we hope that members of the Art House Convergence will check them out and support them.

[This section I managed to omit... I dropped my papers and got flustered...] And to close, let me say how much I love and respect the work that you all do, every day, in the real world, to bring people from different backgrounds and experiences together to share a passion, a movie theater, and maybe some popcorn. That’s not just building diversity, that is creating community.

Dennis: 

We’ve written these speeches separately, so please forgive me if there’s some repetition. Just assume you’re watching a Christopher Nolan film.

Thank you to Alison, Ronnie, the Spotlight and Conference Leadership, and all of you for this wonderful award. Now, one doesn’t get too many lifetime achievement awards in ones… well, life. It sort of says it in its name. This honor really took us completely by surprise. And like most every one of my age, I completely forgot how damned old I’ve become.

There is something uncomfortable that I want to reveal publicly for the first time – because I think it is more valuable to discuss the struggles and the people who helped -- than to talk about any achievements. And there’s a specific reason why I’m telling you because it has to do with cinema… The fact is that I was a child of abuse. It was a life of frequently harsh, violent physical punishment and equally harsh criticism. For most of my young life, my self-esteem was zero – something I still struggle with even standing here today. My childhood terrors were a struggle that I hid from my teachers, my classmates, and my friends. I barely hung in there in high school, and by college, my life was slipping away from me. My college friends had no idea, but I was broken in so many ways.

Dennis: 1975 in Florida

Then it happened… at the advanced age of 21. One day, by complete accident, I was chosen for no real reason other than I could operate a video camera, to be the president of Ohio University’s Athens Film Society -- exactly forty years ago this year. My fortunes and my life completely changed for the better. It was instant karma in the form of 16mm celluloid. I found an art form that I loved above all the others, I found a career that has rewarded me time and time again – especially tonight – and I found my beloved wife and partner Amy and gave birth to Milestone, and even more important our son Adam, the joy of our lives. They, above all else, are why I’m here today 

From day one in cinema, I also found surrogate fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers -- lifelong friends that I tend to call my cinematic family – that have helped me along the way. And they are from all phases of the industry, so please bear with me for a few seconds when I name a few of them. From the beginning, there was Dean Henry Lin at Ohio U and my first film boss Giulio Scalinger, followed by the animators Grant Munro and John Canemaker, the archivists Kevin Brownlow, Ross Lipman, and James Card, programmers like Anita Monga, John Ewing, Connie White, and Kyoko Hirano. The filmmakers Tony Buba (my personal favorite), Charles Burnett, Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Jonathan Demme, Michael Powell, Bill Greaves, and Manny Kirshheimer. The media librarians Bill Sloan, Lillian Katz and Joe Yranski. The distributors Lee Krugman, Ian Christie, and the ever-wonderful Nancy Gerstman. Then there are the film critics like Scott Eyman, Ann Hornaday, Melissa Anderson, Manohla Dargis, Richard Brody, and Dave Kehr. There are also the lab people like Janice Allen, Russ Sunewick and Jack Rizzo. There’s Turner Classic Movies’ Charlie Tabesh. I know… he’s television… but he’s our brother-in-cinema and Milestone owes its continued existence to him. Then there are all my friends at the Eye Filmmuseum and my two closest cinematic sisters, Wendy Clarke – that’s Shirley’s daughter -- and Letizia Gatti of Reading Bloom, she’s our Italian side of the Milestone family.

And lastly, there’s Laura Rooney and the entire membership of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Amazing people who I have loved and cherished these past twenty-two years and I’m lucky now to be in a position as President that I am able to serve them. They are the thousand people all over the world working without fanfare to preserve our moving image history.

And of course, many of you here In this room, I consider to be my cinematic family. And just to explain, I started to write this speech in the Netherlands after three glasses of wine, and I was shall we say… a little drunk, overly sentimental, and immensely nostalgic. And outside of the drinking which in retrospect probably would have helped get me through this speech, I’m about to get a little of all that once again.

My fellow old-timers probably noticed by now that I haven’t thanked somebody I worked for seven years — and are probably getting a little pissed that I’ve forgotten him. And many have, but I never will. Donald Krim has been left out of film history by too many. He was too self-deprecating, too sincere, and too honest to have books, articles, and theses written about him. So let’s flash back to 1983. It’s a long story but I hope you will be repaid in the end by listening to it.

I finally left Ohio University having been president of the film society and programmed their terrific Athens International film festival. I was in hell for two years working for the family business – selling Marlboros, Virginia Slims, Eve 120s and Newports in Irvington, New Jersey for a living. 

So! In desperation and with fingers crossed and with lots of prayers, I sent out about 200 letters to just about everybody in the BoxOffice Distributors list of 1983 along with my resume and Giulio’s reference letter. Over the next few weeks, I got 176 rejection letters – I still have them all -- and two film production companies who wanted me to launder money out of Greece -- well they both assumed with my last name being Doros and coming from Athens (they skipped over the Ohio part) that I must be Greek… and since I was looking for I job in film, that I must be dishonest… I mean can you imagine telling somebody in the job interview that you’re hiring them to commit international money laundering?

Anyway, months after I had given up and resigned to my fate of smelling like tobacco for the rest of my life, I got a letter late in December 1983 starting off “pertaining to your letter of May 5th.” Don, I have to say, kind of worked methodically. It seemed his last nontheatrical salesman had to be fired for dishonesty – taking imaginary bookings but shipping real 16mm and 35mm prints to unsuspecting exhibitors. As you can imagine, that did NOT go over well with the theaters…

As shy as I was, he saw something in me. I was hired and a couple of weeks later, I had my own office on West 57th Street. It was a tiny company then -- Don’s wife Susan Krim and Paula Pevzner were the other two people there and I am still tremendously in their debt as well.

   

Don Krim

I should mention that when I joined Kino, my father stopped talking to me for a year. I had left Star Tobacco and went into the film world. I had truly disgraced the family. But Don’s kindness, his willingness to teach me the ropes, his taking me into his confidence about the business, and especially our lunches and walks together where he’d tell me the history of indie cinema in New York and the characters he knew are memories I hold dear. Even his criticisms when I didn’t live up to what he thought I was capable of were kindly. I can’t begin to tell you how much he meant to me. In the emotional vacuum that was my prior life, he became my substitute father, my mentor, and my lifelong inspiration.

So! How did I become a distributor and a film archivist? During my first year there, Don acquired two silent films from the Gloria Swanson estate, Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly and Raoul Walsh’s Sadie Thompson. Von Stroheim’s film had been completed in haste by others less talented than him after he was fired, and Walsh’s masterpiece was missing its last reel. Don thought of bringing them out as historical oddities with an explanation at the beginning and end of the film. I asked if he thought of restoring them as close as you could using stills and scripts. I was inspired by Bob Gitt’s work on Lost Horizon done a few years before.

Now, this is commonplace these days where there are so many outlets for silent films, but this was absolutely unheard of in 1984. I should mention that Kino was always in debt. Kino was threatened almost monthly by the man Don bought the business from – and who was still owed a lot of money. Don and Susan were working nights and weekends trying to figure out how to keep the company alive. Besides that, only the well-respected Kevin Brownlow and David Gill were restoring silent films with the kind of budget I proposed, and they had Thames Television corporate money to back them. I mean, I was asking Don to spend a boatload of money on the idea that a 26-year-old kid with less than a year’s professional experience could pull this off. All Don asked was, “Do you think you can do it?” And, let me say here, I completely lied. I definitely didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I said, of course, I could. And he trusted me.

Oh my god, That was when I discovered film restoration. As broken as I had been as a teenager, the art of putting something together again, to fix it and make it whole, to make it look new again, was a revelation. I’ve never discussed this before and perhaps I didn’t even realize it until I wrote this speech. But I suspect I’m not alone in this feeling of film restoration as rejuvenation of one’s own soul.

For the next two years, I was working at Kino every day in the city. And every night and on weekends, I would take the bus an hour ride ­home, then drive up an hour to Janice Allen’s lab in Park Ridge, New Jersey so I could work on these two films late into the early morning hours. Janice, by the way, taught me everything I needed to know. I was living on coffee, fast food, and doughnuts that I’d pick up on the New Jersey Parkway. And every morning, I’d arrive at Kino before anyone else and Don and I would go over what I did the night before. We also talked about what I was going to do, and he helped with possible ideas and on writing the new intertitles we needed. We sweated daily to make them better. As I recall, the intertitle “A Serenade” took two weeks before we finally came up with it.

Don was there to hold my hand when I needed it. All together, it cost a lot of money to restore these two films, most likely money he had to borrow. Don never mentioned it, so I never had to think about it. Hell, I was probably too young and too self-involved to care. When by some miracle the first one neared completion, Queen Kelly was to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and to follow was a huge opening in Los Angeles. There was a lot of excitement about the film and It looked like it was going to be a tremendous success. Don told me that I was to be credited as the archivist. I suggested that Don also would take a restoration credit. He said, no thanks, the Kino International logo was all he needed. That was his. And that was Don.

Now for my inspirational part of my part of the speech and the reason I told this long story. It’s the secret why Milestone, run by two short but adorable Jewish people out of their home in New Jersey is 29-years-old and has outlasted a lot of bigger companies. No matter how broke we were, we took some really big risks on films that really mattered to us. That could make lives better just by watching them. We went for the home runs because no one remembers the singles the next day. Our films may seem like obvious choices now, but I promise you that everybody thought we were crazy to spend $450,000 to release a film shot in 16mm about an African American working at a slaughterhouse in Watts — or to risk all our savings on a 141-minute 1964 propaganda film celebrating the Cuban revolution — or taking ten years to restore the films of the uncommercial and forgotten Shirley Clarke. We took these risks because we believed in the power of cinema, in the films themselves… and we believed in all of you.

Our secret was to build our company taking risks — to be honest, the more degree of difficulty the better… because it’s not just about today, it’s about building something of value to last for generations. Don taught us this.

So! let’s say down the road, you distributors and exhibitors alike, finding that you need to take a big risk on something really wonderful and worth fighting for … I want you to remember Don Krim. By the way, Queen Kelly netted over half a million dollars and played in over forty countries. Don took great risks not only on films and directors but also on a person that 176 other companies wouldn’t hire -- and here I am today with my lovely wife and this rather nifty award. This year, Amy and I are going to restore Queen Kelly and Sadie Thompson once again, this time in Don’s honor. This time, his name will appear in the final credits.

So in conclusion, when you hear me say — and I do so frequently — that I believe in the power of cinema to change lives, well, here I am.

Now, I’ll dry my tears over lost friends and I’ll get that drink with my amazing partner and wife, and here will be my toast, “Here is to all of you.” Thank you.

Posted in 2019 Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award, AHC, AMIA, Amy Heller, Art House Convergence, Association of Moving Image Archivists, Dan Talbot, Dennis Doros, Don Krim, Jose Lopez, Milestone Films, Nancy Gerstman, Queen Kelly, Sadie Thompson, Spotlight Cinema Network

We are AMIA!

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

By Dennis Doros, Co-owner of Milestone and President of AMIA

My first trip to the Association of Moving Image Archivists was in Bethesda, Maryland in 1997. My panel on the collegial work between archives and distributors did not go very well — one of the archivists suggested that in 20 years, the only place that anyone could go see silent films would be in an archive. It was a bad prediction (as it turns out) and it reinforced my suspicions that many archivists were dead set against cooperating on restorations that would see commercial release.

But I met a new friend there who convinced me to come back and try again. The next year’s conference in Miami changed my life forever and set me on a course I never expected. I found not only colleagues in the archival world... but a family as well. (And now, I'm proud to say that my own family, Amy and our son Adam, are also members!)

I served three terms on the Board of Directors and after a hiatus, I am now back— this time serving as President of AMIA. Below is a photo of this year's board, a collection of amazing people that I’m proud and grateful to call friends. They work tirelessly to better our field and help our members.

Casey Davis Kaufman, Lauren Sorenson, me, Andrea Leigh, Teague Schneiter, Yvonne Ng, John Polito, Jayson Wall, Melissa Dollman

In its 28 years of existence, the organization has helped abolish the boundaries between commercial and non-commercial, distributors and archivists, labs and archives, collectors and copyright holders, academics and studios. We have grown from our early days of sitting around a table to nearly a thousand members from 29 countries. Our conference takes up three floors of hotel space with panels, workshops, exhibition spaces, roundtables, screenings and much more! We offer scholarships, internships, and travel grants to all those interested in the preservation of moving images.

This year, the Board decided to produce a song to welcome the newcomers to AMIA. It was intended to be a silly song — to show that the board was willing to put its best (or worst) foot forward to make people feel at home. However, we did not count on the talents of Audio Mechanics' John Polito. The song was both splendidly retro and funny and his audio talents made us sound, well, good! I make, shall we say, a surprising contribution. “We are AMIA” was a hit at this year’s AMIA conference, and we want to share it with our Milestone friends!

I want, however, to say that AMIA is just not all song and dance. It is four days of spectacular continuing education, networking, and problem-solving. So many restorations have come from colleagues meeting other colleagues at the conference, that a festival featuring all those restored moving images would take years. 

AMIA is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and your donation can help to bring students and unsubsidized archivists to the conference from around the world. A gift to the AMIA travel fund is like the proverbial story of teaching a man to fish — you are not restoring a specific film, but you are helping to teach archivists who will go out and preserve and restore hundreds of films around the world. 

To find out how you can donate, here's the link!

Six years later — All employers should still “Pay up!”

Posted on September 30, 2018 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

Way back in May 2012 I wrote and posted a blog on this website entitled “Pay Up!” In that essay I argued that people should get paid for working. What a concept, huh? Revolutionary. 

In that blog, I was reacting to an article that had just appeared in the New York Times about the phenomenon of unpaid internships. But then, for a while things seemed to be improving. In June 2013 a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that Fox Searchlight had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying production interns working on Black Swan. And for a few years, young people getting out of college (often with huge student loan debt) were actually earning some money at their first film industry jobs.

Of course, here at Milestone, we have continued our practice of paying interns. In fact, when I became an active supporter of Bernie Sanders, we began paying all college students and grads $15 an hour and our high school assistants $13 an hour.

So Dennis and I are truly dismayed to learn that many production companies, theaters, museums, and fellow film distributors have gone back to the old practice of allowing well-educated, hard-working young people to work for free.

In August, as our two wonderful summer interns Austin and Malu were preparing to leave and were looking for new internships or employment, we heard from them about how hard it is to find any that pays. Honestly, we were appalled to hear about companies and institutions that pay a $10 or $25 per day — or absolutely nothing at all.

As a former labor historian, I also want to take a moment to address an argument I sometimes hear — that unpaid internships are essentially an extension of the age-old apprenticeship model (and I am definitely not referring to a former television show!). So here is the thing: “the system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages and came to be supervised by craft guilds and town governments. master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labour in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft.” 

Interns in 2018 have to house, feed, clothe, and transport themselves and they carry enormous debt burdens. The average loan debt of a student graduating in New York State in 2017 was more than $30,000. You can read more here.

Back in 2012 I wrote that Dennis and I were the only full-time permanent staff at Milestone and that we worked in the basement of our house, cleaned the cat boxes, packed orders, and did all the production, bookkeeping, and shipping. We still do. And we are making the exact same salary we were earning when I wrote that 2012 blog — that is, when our cash flow allows us to take pay checks.

FYI, we earn a little more than double what our interns do (and that is only if you presume that we work only 40 hours a week. We don’t). And it is interesting to note that the Economic Policy Institute reported this year that the average CEO pay is 271 times that of the typical American worker.

I understand that in addition to making hard choices that keep our overhead low (literally — tall interns need to duck in our subterranean office), Dennis and I are also lucky to be able to decide to pay our interns fairly. For one thing, we only hire interns for short-term assignments, and then only when we can afford to. For another, in our early years, we benefited from family financial help.

But think about this: the endowment of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art is almost half a billion dollars. And in the current listings on the New York Foundation for the Arts jobs page, MoMA’s PS1 is advertising an unpaid Live Programming Internship. Really.

Recently, Bernie Sanders introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (or the “Stop BEZOS” Act) — legislation aimed at taxing companies whose 500+ employees earn low wages and receive federal benefits like food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid. Bernie is trying to get us to think about, talk about, and change current corporate practices that are making our country increasingly unequal in income and wealth. As he has said, “A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.”

Now I cannot change the Gini coefficient (a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation's residents, and is the most commonly used measurement of inequality) of the USA.

Neither can you. But we may be able to do something — and we must try.

I’m trying by paying my interns and writing this blog. Maybe you can try something too! This world isn’t going to get fairer or kinder or more just unless we all try to do whatever we can. Think about it...

And finally, remember that it isn’t a fairy tale that once upon a time working people joined forces to try to improve pay and working conditions and to make the world more equitable and peaceful. 

Yours in solidarity,

Amy

And here is a positive postscript! Thanks to the efforts of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Amazon has announced that the company is raising its minimum wage to $15 for all US employees, including full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers!  You can read more here

Posted in bernie sanders, gini coefficient, Interns, internship, Stop BEZOS

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