The Independent Exhibition Conference, or IND/EX, launches today and it's at capacity with 700 attendees from art houses, indie theater chains, indie distributors, indie vendors. This is the first time since Covid hit that the industry is gathering, and it's a critical moment. The theatrical business is very different and extremely tough, especially for art houses.

Art House Convergence used to hold an annual event before the Sundance Film Festival, but hasn't for almost five years. For 2024, the group partnered with the Film Festival Alliance to create a new, expanded confab called IND/EX — three days of networking, speakers and panels on operations, programming, education, development, distribution and community engagement, set at the Chicago Cultural Center and Gene Siskel Film Center.

It's not CinemaCon, but distributors ArtMattan Productions, Entertainment Squad, Exhibition on Screen, Giant Pictures, MUBI, Sony Pictures Repertory and Focus Features will showcase past and upcoming slates. Searchlight is present, as is A24. Reps from American Cinematheque in L.A. and Film at Lincoln Center in NYC are joined by theaters from around the country from Brooklyn, Billings and Boston to Detroit, Des Moines and Denver.

"We’ve been competently overwhelmed with the response," Elizabeth Twist, FFA's Executive Director, tells Deadline.

The vast majority, at least 80%, of the nation's 400+ pure art house theaters are nonprofits with many more "switching to the nonprofit model because they can get public funds to stay operational. Honestly, it’s been a real challenge. You can’t survive on concession and tickets alone anymore," says Kate Markham, Arthouse Convergence Managing Director. It’s helpful for theater owners to talk with others who have made the change.

The two said their organizations have worked together frequently and there's quite some overlap. Festivals are leveraging their local theaters and, in some cases, own them and work year-round programming. "We’re [both] community based, mission driven, a lot of us are nonprofits. And, functionally, all of us are there just trying to get people to watch movies. That is shared. The conference is also a lot more focused on bigger issues facing our field. Some of the bigger structural issues that we all need to deal with," said Twist.

Relationships between distributors and exhibitors "is definitely going to be up for conversation and reflection," she said, as well audience development and grassroots marketing. Data is key. "What data do we need to be collecting? What data do you already have access to that you just might not be using? And then how you can use that.” Talking things out can really help so things “don’t feel so daunting when you’re back at home with your one-screen theater."

Labor issues are front and center. "There are just a lot of labor issues that came out, in general, in society during the pandemic that are also very much present in our field, especially when you combine the nonprofits with the film industry. So a lot of organizations are trying to figure out how do we serve our employees but also take into consideration budget issues, capacity issues," Twist says.

Networking, important to any industry, is especially crucial in this one right now.

"I think the four and a half years of being remote, there’s been a lot of turnover on the distributor side. And on the exhibitor side. A lot of folks don’t know their local or regional theatrical reps and exhibitor teams. So there will be a lot of that relationship building that I think is necessary," saysTwist.

Alamo Drafthouse is there — the thriving chain that attracts key younger demos and was just acquired by Sony.

How do they feel about that deal?

"Personally, the concerning thing is just the larger question about consolidation and monopolies," says Twist. "But I think that given that Alamo represents 1% to 2% of the market, it’s fairly small. And I would say I would welcome anyone into the theatrical space … that is willing to help us achieve the greater goal, which is bringing more people out to see movies. And if they want to show up and be a great partner. Amazing, right?"

More from Deadline

2024-06-25T15:59:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd