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The Reeler Blog

Winter of Our Discontent: NYC Film Blogs Defend the Pioneer Theater

The absolute must-read item of the day is over at Nerve's movie blog ScreenGrab, where editor (and filmmaker) Bilge Ebiri offers a fist-sized grain of salt for readers of last week's Village Voice piece trashing the Pioneer Theater as "a veritable assembly line of disgruntled ex-employees and associates since it opened in 2000":

Here's the real problem with (Jessica) Winter's article: By dissing the theater in passing, she refuses to acknowledge that The Pioneer of today is very different from The Pioneer that opened in 2000. "The article does not differentiate between the Pioneer Theater before the current administration and the Pioneer Theater of the last two and a half years," says (Pioneer programmer Ray) Privett, who started in mid-2004. "My time has been a time of reform, response, clarity, paid bills, and good care for prints, at severe odds with the preceding administrations. I got bills paid that were incurred before my timeā€¦ Sometimes everyone is disappointed by how much money comes in, but no one misrepresents anything, and we pay out according to the deals made beforehand even when it is clear we have not cleared our own overhead. Sometimes, even in my era, we've paid out a little late. Guilty. But we pay out according to the deals cut beforehand. I've probably booked films from 800 sources in the time I've been here. Ask any of those sources whether we've paid out according to the deals made beforehand. Any of them. If anybody has a problem, tell them to call me." ...
This may seem like a lot of hullabaloo over a few small grafs in a much larger article about much bigger matters. But when we're talking about small businesses like The Pioneer, ones that don't have big marketing budgets and rely on customer loyalty and community to thrive, this sort of thing really hurts, and can irreparably damage reputations. More importantly, she is just plain wrong. I'd say her facts were wrong, except that she doesn't actually present any facts against The Pioneer.

I guess there is enough disclosure here to go around a couple of times: Privett has hosted several of the programs in my blog's screening series; Winter just last week (on the morning her piece came out, in fact) declined my invitation to contribute criticism to The Reeler; I have several colleagues and friends who have screened work at the Pioneer, etc. What can I say? It is a small town. But because it is small, misrepresentations like the Voice's are all the more egregious and irresponsible. Winter's sources' allegations would have been easy enough to check out; at the very least, the author could have solicited and received a candid response from Privett within an hour. I know this because I have done it. A lot.

I have also had to think about how or if I should respond to this myself, ultimately determining the essential bottom line: Nobody in this small town is more supportive of local independent filmmakers than the Pioneer. Period. It eschews cliques, it welcomes communities (witness the turnout to this week's A Cantor's Tale engagement), it offers diverse programming and it modestly goes about its business making neither claims to greatness nor excuses for failure. Like Ebiri said--it is a small business. It struggles. And if Winter's piece helps its sources sink the Pioneer, I hope her next bit of writing is 800 or 900 letters of apology to New York filmmakers and filmgoers otherwise alienated or ignored by the theater's aloof mainstream neighbors. New York needs this place to not only endure, but also thrive.

But do not send her your address yet; the Pioneer is hanging in there. In any event, however, this is more than bad reporting--it is a betrayal. And really, the Voice should be ashamed.

Posted at September 29, 2006 12:04 AM

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