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NY: Rooftop Films – Alternative community focused exhibition

As the organization’s name indicates, its programs are not shown in traditional theaters, multiplexes or drive in venues. They are screened in public venues be it rooftops, lawns, parks, factories, or piers and cover feature films, documentaries and shorts, normally not accessible to the audience served. Rooftop Films was established in New York in 1997 showing one film only and has grown since into a multifaceted enterprise which screened in 2008 18 feature films and 150 shorts.
These productions were mostly premieres and independent and packaged into themed programs for the communities Rooftop Films serves. In 2008 films were selected from more than 2000 submissions bringing ‘underground movies outdoors’ with the summer series of outdoor screenings as the central component of the program. There are other outdoor film screenings in New York such as features at the Tribeca film festival, but few if any showcase the undistributed productions of unknown local artists. The Rooftop Film program attracted last year an audience of 14,000 local residents during
38 nights of film screenings in 12 locations.

Since its inception this non-profit organization has been able to partner with the Independent Film Channel, (IFC), New York Magazine, Toyota Motors’ Scion division and the Independent Feature Project (IFP). Rooftop Films has lined up sponsors from numerous media oriented groups and local corporations as well as funding from foundation and government sources. External support and the allocation of a fraction of the admission fee of $9 has allowed Rooftop Films to expand its programs to cover media youth education for black and Latino high school students; to set up a grant system to fund new productions through a filmmakers’ fund and production collective and to curate themed short film programs for alternative venues such as museums, micro cinemas and for the last three years Rooftop TV, a series broadcast n New York and over the internet. These services are complemented by a low cost rental service for film productions and exhibition equipment. Thus Rooftop Films is morphing into a comprehensive community based film service organization.

Training and screening philosophy have strong progressive components. The media youth education part serves to “communicate experiences of discrimination and struggle in their [the participants’] life and resolved conflicts”. The Filmmakers’ Fund provides partial
financing for “films we do not see enough
produced by women and people of color”. Scripts are encouraged which offer insights into “overlooked and misunderstood communities”. Among funded productions have been documentaries on the impact of mining on the rain forest and on individuals of the American military police convicted of abuse in Iraq. Others of community interest dealt with death, and San Francis of Assisi’s blessing of the animals. Screenings demonstrate the link between the target audience and selected films. Thus a film produced in Harlem was shown on the roof of El Museo Del Barrio in the very community the films was shot and the new Polish film TRICKS was screened in the historical Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint. The Mexican film LA FRONTIERA INFINITA on the determination of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans passing Mexico clandestinely on their way to the United States, was also screened in Spanish Harlem to a sold out audience including a large number of Latin Americans. This feature length documentary by Juan Manuel Sepulveda was secured through cooperation with the Mexican Morelia International Film Festival. Other entries for the 2008 program present personal HOME MOVIES by numerous individual film makers; TROUBLE THE WATER by Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts on surviving flooded New Orleans; MUNURANGABO by Lee Isaa Chung on revenge and friendship in post-genocide Rwanda and NEW YORK NON-FICTION shorts focusing on the lives of ordinary New Yorker as well as DARK ’TOONS, a series of innovative international animated shorts.

Rooftop Films has developed superior innovative community oriented programs, giving a face and voice to relatively unknown film makers; in short it is an organization that has been able to survive and expand without compromising its political and social mission.

Claus Mueller,
New York Correspondent

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