Oak Street Cinema seeks volunteers

Categories: Film
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You gotta love Al Milgrom, who helped launch MN Film Arts more than 40 year ago (as the U Film Society), and is now one of the last remaining staff: His wee-hours post on Monday at the new Save the Oak Street blog was about as impolitic as PR gets. Before inviting fans of the financially troubled Oak Street Cinema to volunteer for MN Film Arts (which runs the repertory movie house, and screens documentaries at the Bell), Milgrom berated the audience ("Where were you guys this weekend?"), old colleagues ("[MN Film Arts is] a very unhappy moniker... It was a [Bob] Cowgill & Co. name"), and anyone who might miss the Swedish film scheduled to open next month ("I would find it inexcusable if, for example, you failed to show for 'Illusive Tracks'... Not on DVD!! And won't be... it will knock you on your ass!!"). The Save the Oak Street organization, meanwhile, aired its own complaints the following day: "As a group, we have decided to make no further financial contributions to MFA until we have a clearer sense of its mission and its plans to implement that mission...

"We are concerned that our contributions may go to waste or may help only to exhibit films that commercial theater chains are already screening. We are eagerly awaiting the follow-up community meeting that the MFA Board promised on the night of the 14th. So far, we have heard of no plans to hold this second meeting, and we plan to wait with our donations and membership renewals until we know more."

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Until the board of directors, staff, and supporters of Minnesota Film Arts see eye to eye, here are a few things you can do to help the Oak Street and the organization overseeing it: 1.) Get on the email list for Save the Oak Street, 2.) contact MN Film Arts to volunteer, and 3.) go down to the theaters and see some great films: The Oak Street calendar currently runs through February 9, with Music From the Inside Out (all titles link to reviews), Don't Look Back, and The Last Waltz playing through Thursday of this week (today). Opening Friday (tomorrow) are two acclaimed pictures you might have missed in other theaters, The Squid and the Whale and Ballet Russes, both screening through February 2, with Ballet Russes continuing through February 4. Illusive Tracks opens February 3 and screens through February 9. (Don't be shy about asking staff to focus these films, by the way; Oak Street projection is gorgeous when crisp.)

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The Bell calendar, meanwhile, runs through February with a number of well-reviewed documentaries, including Ganges: River to Heaven through February 2, New York Doll from February 3 through February 9, and The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (click title for Nation review; Democracy Now! segment here; official site here) from February 10 through February 16. MN Film Arts's essential 16mm rarity series at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, Search and Rescue, is also confirmed for February 8. (Last month featured a great little educational film on how phonograph records are made.) Anyway, Milgrom says the Oak Street will stay open at least through April's Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

How Minnesota Film Arts came to this crossroads: Here's a Jan. 15 MNSpeak discussion on the controversy, a Jan. 19 MN Daily editorial, a MNStories video of the the January 14 public meeting at Oak Street, with the document handed out by the staff that night, a Jan. 12 press release from the board, and accounts of the meeting from City Pages (Paul Demko updating this item), Euan Kerr (at Stephanie Curtis's new MPR movie blog), Bug, the New Patriot, the Pioneer Press, the Onion, the MN Daily, Holk, and the Star Tribune. For more backstory, here's some commentary on Jamie Hook's dubious 2005 tribute to Milgrom, a 2001 profile of Milgrom before the merger between U Film Society and Oak Street, which created Minnesota Film Arts, and more on Cowgill's 2004 departure after the merger. More recently, here's Cyn Collins's Pulse item on saving the Oak Street, an older Strib story, another Pi Press story and more MNSpeak discussion, plus a Complicated Fun post with Collins's initial email breaking the story.

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