Ever wonder how FLICS finds its flicks? For Phil Neufeld, the man responsible for bringing international cinema to the Fox Theater through the popular film series, the mission to secure his ideal lineup begins before the popcorn leaves the kettle.
"We start before the season is over, and always receive suggestions from people who come in. We compile a list of those titles before doing the research on what will work."
As the suggestions come in, Neufeld begins scouring the web for reviews before cutting down his own list and reaching out to film distributors for market availability and potential scheduling.
The distributors range from big companies that carry major and independent films of every genre to more scaled-down operations.
"It's a really big business to follow, but sometime you get the impression it may be some guy who has an apartment and he just happens to have the rights to a film and he has all the copies in his closet."
This Friday's selection, which opens the series' 32nd season, is "Blancanieves" from Spain, a critically acclaimed, black-and-white silent retelling of the classic Snow White fairy-tale.
Though the selection is not as well-known as last year's Oscar-winning FLICS opener, "A Separation," Neufeld is hoping for a big response from the audience.
"There was a lot of buzz with 'A Separation' last year, and we had a great crowd. 'Blancanieves' may not be as well-known, but it's beautiful. I think a lot of people will want to see this film if they've seen 'The Artist.' As nice as that film was, this is just as good. It's a familiar story, but closer to the Grimms' version, not Disney."
Through its weekly independent film series, Maya Cinemas has begun to offer some of the same fare as FLICS.
In order to avoid any redundant screenings, Neufeld schedules accordingly.
"If a film is part of a festival series somewhere, it may not be available for distribution early. FLICS operates at the non-theatrical echelon of distribution. I think it's great that these amazing films are being given opportunities to be viewed."
Recalling some of his favorite moments in the history of FLICS, Neufeld said an early brush with an up-and-coming director named Greg Mottola still ranks as a highlight.
"Greg had made a film as a student project when he was in film school called 'Swinging in the Painter's Room,' and it showed on PBS. Somebody who knew about FLICS saw it and tracked Greg Mottola down and called him in New York and said, 'I know this film society who would love to show your film.' He was so taken that someone was interested in showing his film that he sent us a 16-millimeter copy of the movie himself."
(The collegiate effort from Mottola was just a sign of great things to come from the director. Since his debut at FLICS, Mottola has gone on to direct the box office hit "Superbad," the slacker comedy "Adventureland," episodes of HBO's "The Newsroom," the Fox-turned-Netflix series "Arrested Development," among other impressive credits.)
In the end Neufeld is happy to help artists when and where he can but sees his real mission as opening the eyes of local moviegoers to the world that exists beyond the box office hits.
"I like all kinds of films. I like to watch independent films and foreign films. I think they really reflect more the art of film rather than the commerce of film. When you have an independent film being made, they may have a limited budget and don't concentrate on flash. They'd rather put the budget towards telling a good story. I'd rather see that instead of buildings being blown up."
After more than three decades of putting indie films in front of Kern County audiences, FLICS has been able to take its successes and stake a financial claim in the future of local arts and cultural entertainment.
"To date we've been able to donate over $75,000 back into the community. We're nonprofit, but we hope the community has profited from us."