If you didn’t already know, a crucial part of the Doris Duke Theatre team is director Taylour Chang. She has a hand in curating the many festivals and performances held at the theatre, making it a place where underrepresented voices in mainstream media and history can share their perspective. (Case in point, the Jewish Film Festival, Palestinian Cinema, Korean Cinema and more.) Outside of the theatre, Chang is a co-founder of the Alliance for Action, a collective that addresses equity issues in independent film exhibition and distribution. Chang lives and breathes film—she is a filmmaker herself and was president of the film society when she attended Yale. Earlier this year, Chang received the Art House Convergence Founder’s Award for her important work. Boxoffice spoke to her about the achievement. Here is an excerpt below:
Boxoffice: What makes the Doris Duke Theatre unique in your community? What are the specific challenges of running an art house at a museum?
TC: The Doris Duke Theatre is Honolulu’s singular mission-driven, community-based nonprofit art house theater, focused on independent and foreign cinema, with annual film festivals (Bollywood Film Festival, Honolulu African-American Film Festival, Filipino Film Festival, Honolulu Jewish Film Festival, Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, Honolulu Surf Film Festival, Cultural Animation Film Festival, French Film Festival, Oiwi/Native Hawaiian Film Festival, Korean Film Festival, and others), repertory programming, themed series, specialty events, a year-long concert lineup, and a music education program that works with youth from underserved communities. We’re a single-screen 280-seat theater located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The theater has developed a reputation in the community for its bold programming relevant to the social and political climate of the times. The theater works closely with over 150 community partners throughout the year, which includes film festival committees representing different sectors of Hawaii’s diverse community.
The Doris Duke Theatre is part of the Honolulu Museum of Art. The theater is a revenue-generating arm of the museum while also being part of the museum’s curatorial team, so we face a lot more financial pressure to engage audiences than other museum curators. At the same time, we know our audience very well, and the lessons the theater has learned from building our audience inform the ways the museum expands its audience base overall. A lot of times the theater becomes people’s entry point into the museum, so it allows us to build museum membership through the theater programming. We are often faced with how to connect the dots—curatorially, financially, logistically—between the theater program and everything else the museum has to offer, which can create challenges but a lot of exciting opportunities. When there are a few major gallery exhibitions per year, the theater exhibits different content almost every day, with film festivals about once a month and concerts and/or special programming at least once a week, so the pace and nature of our work is unique within the museum. The theater has a lean but amazing team of three full-time and three part-time staff, and we work closely with community members, engaging different sectors of our community from week to week. Maintaining that concentrated community focus on a weekly basis while also balancing how the theater fits within the larger museum context is a challenge, but being part of a museum helps us bridge deeper connections between our local cinema and the wider arts and culture scene. Our team understands how film brings people together in a way that benefits not just our local arts and culture but also the larger social ecosystem.
Over the last decade, Art House Convergence has grown to be more than an event and come into its own as a community. Why is the event so valuable for an exhibitor like yourself?
Working in an art house in Hawaii can feel isolating, since we’re geographically disconnected, and we often don’t have the budget to travel, so attending the Art House Convergence once a year and being in community with other art house exhibitors means the world. It has helped me with my personal growth as an art house professional, and it has helped me make friendships that I would not have been able to otherwise. The Convergence gives art houses from small towns and geographically isolated areas rare opportunities to connect with colleagues from all across the country. It’s amazing to see very large, reputable institutions and much smaller organizations, nonprofit and for-profit theaters alike, and so many different perspectives come together in one place. The shared experience of being mission driven, community based, and passionate about cinema creates an inspiring amount of mutual respect within the community that allows art house professionals from smaller, lesser-known organizations to shine and be celebrated. There is a down-to-earth, independent spirit to the community that makes the Art House Convergence really special. For me personally, attending the Convergence made me realize that I wasn’t alone, that the work that we do in Hawaii is not done in a silo, and that every single art house has something to contribute to the larger cinematic landscape. I’m not alone in my gratitude to the Art House Convergence. We are often so focused on the work we do locally, but the Convergence reminds us that we are part of something bigger.
Read the entire interview here.