A chat with the founder of Cinema Society

by David Dixon

Andy Friedenberg is the founder and director of the Cinema Society, a cultural arts organization that was started in 1984.

The Daily Aztec: Tell me a little bit about the Cinema Society.

Andy Friedenberg: We are a cultural arts organization that I started back in 1984 at the Flower Hill Cinemas. We are now at the AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres. Basically, people subscribe and they attend movie premieres and meet people connected with the films, or an expert on the subject matter.

DA: How did you ever think about starting it?

AF: I was a regional marketing director for several studios and when I was the Midwest marketing director for Columbia Pictures in Chicago, there was a group kind of like this. They would call me up and say, “Hey, we have got a group of people who love movies. What does Columbia Pictures have that might foster some good discussions etc” and I thought that was a great idea. So when I moved to San Diego in 1983, I researched the market as to what was happening with creative film programming. The research took about five minutes, and in 1984, we launched.

DA: What did you major in during college?

AF: I ended up being in a communication major. My first two years of undergraduate was liberal arts at Washington University in St. Louis. I took every communication class they  had, and then I started one on my own. I did an outdoor film festival and that became a class unto itself. They still do it on the campus every year. Then I transferred to Boston University, College of Communication, there I learned all the skills I needed to start the Cinema Society.

DA: What was the first film you showed at the Cinema Society?

AF: It was a comedy with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin called “All of Me.”

DA: How do you choose the films that you show?

AF: It is a dictatorship. I do the selecting and choose them in several ways. One way is I go to a lot of film festivals and see a lot of films. Another way is that friends from several studios tell me movies that make sense for an audience such as mine. Also, I read a lot of reviews and I have about 20 films a week sent to me from filmmakers.

DA: How do you narrow the films down?

AF: We like to think we are a journey through cinema, so I do not look for the same kind of thing. I look for good stories well told, whether it is a feature-length film or a short.

DA: How do you think film viewing in San Diego has evolved throughout the years?

AF: It has evolved tremendously, particularly with the rise of film festivals. In 1984, we had the Cinema Society of San Diego. In 2010, we still have The Cinema Society of San Diego but we also have all kinds of film festivals such as Jewish, Asian, Latino. There has been an explosion of film programs at film festivals in our community. It is incredible.

DA: What do you think your organization will be doing in the future?

AF: We are going to continue what we do and do well. We are going to continue showcasing prestige films for a sophisticated audience. We are also going to maintain offering cinema travel opportunities. We lead people to film festivals and film events around the world in places such as Palm Springs and Cuba.

DA: Who has been the greatest influence in your professional career?

AF: There have been several. The first is my mother, who is 91 and still goes to every Cinema Society event. She brought me up believing that going to the movies was an event. As a little kid I had to dress up, be on my best behavior and go to the movies. I still believe that going to the cinemas should be an event. Another person that influenced me was my mentor when I was working in marketing and film studios. His name was Alvin Guggenheim. He ran an advertising public relations firm for film studios in Houston, Texas and he was the most honorable man I knew. He passed away about 10 years ago. He taught me a great deal. Every filmmaker who honors us has influenced me whether it is Stephen Frears, Danny Boyle or Norman Jewison. They give me the honor of showcasing their works, which is wonderful.

DA: What do you think were or are the greatest days of filmmaking?

AF: I like to think it is tomorrow, but there are so many changes going on in the motion picture industry that it is staggering. Most people believe 1939 was the greatest year for motion pictures. Unfortunately, today’s cinema has gotten away from prestige and more into exploitation. I would like to think the best days are ahead, but I am a little concerned by that. I think films today are geared more toward kids than they are toward adults.

DA: What are your top five favorite films of all time?

AF: That is like asking who are your favorite children. I love schmaltz. I love a good plot. I love “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Godfather I and II.” There is a Swedish film that I adore called “As it is in Heaven.” I love the 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film from Japan called “Departures.” I love films that touch the heart. I love shorts. I look for the good in all films. Sometimes you have to dig real deep to find it.

DA: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or the film society?

AF: Check the website and e-mail address, if anyone is interested in joining with us. (cinemasociety.com or andy@cinemasociety.com.) I taught at San Diego State in the summers. I taught motion picture marketing and distribution and that was one of the great times of my life. The whole concept of the class was, “I made my movie, now what do I do with it?” I am very proud of the people I taught. Many of them have gone on to work for the industry, both in distribution and exhibition.

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