Sneak previews sneak into Whitney Humanities Center

For those who want to see the newest films before they arrive at the New Haven Criterion, the Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium has lately become a frequently visited site.

Last week, approximately 300 people including Yale students, faculty and local New Haven residents, turned up at the center to attend the advanced screening of “Adjustment Bureau.” The film is the latest of a string of feature motion pictures ­— including “Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps” and “The Tourist” — that have been screened at the center before they officially premier in cinemas across the country.

The program, which has been in existence for a number of years, has had unprecedented success recently, previewing six major films so far this academic year, said Michael Kerbel, the director of Yale Film Studies Center. But even with the program’s current success, organizers said bringing a movie to campus before its release remains an unpredictable process.

“We do not have a program that specifically handles sneak previews,” Kerbel said. “Its basically [based on] contacts.”

Before the films are released to the cinemas, organizers from the Yale Film Society approach different distribution companies responsible for marketing the films to cinemas all over the country. After that, it is a matter of maintaining the contact with a person”, Tim Kressman ’12, president of Yale Film Society said. (Kressman is a former copy editor for the News.)

Organizers then repeatedly call the distributor, using the alumni networks of the University and the Film Studies Center to attract attention. For instance, one of the films screened in the fall, “Casino Jack,” was directed by George Hickenlooper DRA ’67, who wanted to bring the film to Yale first. Similarly, “The Tourist,” which starred both Angelina Jolie and Johny Depp, was brought to Yale by its production designer, Jon Hutman ’84.

Kressman noted that when selecting films to screen, the Society does not only look at box office blockbusters — though all of the previews this year have been critically or commercially notable releases. For example, James Cameron Michell’s “Rabbit Hole,” was screened in December. Though not a cash cow, it still received many positive reviews.

“It did not do well at the box office at all, getting only a few million dollars,” Kressman said. But the screening still managed to attract a crowd of approximately 100 people. “It was a good turnout for a film of such subject matter,” Kressman added.

The distributors have their own reasons to authorize a sneak preview. Often, sneak previews allow them to gauge the success of the film with the specific demographic of college students. The Yale Film Society records the reactions of the audiences and return them to the representatives from the company after each screening. For “Rabbit Hole” and other screenings this year, organizers were required to fill detailed forms which analyzed audience reactions to different scenes.

“We take a scene and evaluate how funny it was,” Kressman said.

The events are also free and open to the local New Haven community. Kressman said the events are a “nice” way to bring the community — students, faculty and residents alike — together.

“It’s definitely exciting to watch a film before and form your own consensus about it before Rotten Tomatoes does,” said Alexander Rose, a New Haven resident.

Last year, the Center only screened three sneak previews. In addition to the six already screened this academic year, the Society said it is currently in negotiations with distributors regarding upcoming releases.

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