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An Interview with Modern American Cinema's Kristian Day

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2013


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Modern American Cinema - how would you describe your company in a few words?


An anomaly.


How did Modern American Cinema come into being to begin with, and what was the original idea behind it?


Modern American Cinema was created as originally to be the corporate entity to keep myself and everyone who worked with me legally safe from the possible legal issues that could arise from guerrilla filmmaking. However, once my film Capone's Whiskey: The Story of Templeton Rye was completed and ready for exhibition I decided that I didn't want to give any of my money to film festivals. I called over 60 theaters to get the movie booked for single night and weekend runs. The film eventually opened in 43 theaters between Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.


Everything worked because our deals worked our very well for the exhibitors, the distributor (Modern American Cinema), and the audience. Our financial terms were not as risky as they are with studios such as Disney and Sony (they normally ask 90% of the ticket sales). The majority of our exhibitors have very low ticket fees. Most are between $5 and $7. Some are even $2 or $3. It's very affordable.


One thing I thought would hurt us was that we only had one print of Capone's Whiskey. This actually turned out to help us along the way because the movie would travel from one town to the next and give each location a chance to capitalize on the film.


Would you like to talk about some of Modern American Cinema's productions?


I think most people are aware of Capone's Whiskey so I can talk about a few others.


I just finished a short film called Some King. It was a collaboration between myself and author/spoken word guy Josh Boyd and artist Jonathan Pearson. It is very different because I never turned on a camera. Josh wrote a selection poems and passed them to Jonathan Pearson who then created these drawings inspired by the written words. It was accompanied by spoken word recording of Josh reading the poems and an original score by me.

The film premiered at Austin City Limits in October of 2012.


We also have Is This Heaven? The film about former neo nazi Frank Meeink on the search to find where he belongs spiritually [more about this movie here]. This has been our most anticipated film since Capone's Whiskey. It was inspired by the current political/religious issues in the United States dealing with marriage equality in the gay community. Frank hears hate coming from a lot of right wing conservative Christians and decided that maybe being Christian isn't who he is.


Most recently, we produced a television program called Crowding the Pan with Sam Auen - It is a punk rock cooking show of sorts. Sam Auen used to be the guitar player for the grindcore band Black Market Fetus and is also one of the top chefs in Des Moines. Think Dirty Jobs meets Barefoot Contessa. It is also very significant as it is one of the first TV shows entirely shot on an Iphone :)


Modern American Cinema has gone into the distribution business only rather recently. What prompted that move?


From dealing with booking my own films. I am very anti film festival. Ask anyone. I believe most of them are a waste of money and to be honest that is not a real audience. The real audience are the people that buy movie tickets at your local cinema and that is who I want to reach. There are many films out there that never reach that audience.


I also still believe in the cinema. VOD is the future, but there is so much stuff on there. When I am on there, the only thing I ever click on to watch are titles that I know about. Getting a small theatrical release can lead to a great VOD release.


Please talk about some of the movies you are distributing?


Well, Kung Fu Graffiti just opened in Lake Mills, Iowa back in November (two week run). It's a great kids movie by Iowa filmmaker Joe Clarke [Joe Clarke interview - click here]. Kind of like a Karate Kid-style film. It will circulate for about a year in theaters.


My Name is A by anonymous is a great art house piece by Shane Ryan [Shane Ryan interview - click here]. I am a huge fan of the films of Harmony Korine, which I feel this movie is very similar to. The movie is very non-linear which I think adds to how uneasy the story is. It captures a very dark side of America's youth. I was hoping to release this in November, however we are holding off until the holiday blockbusters are over.


Something Blue - - directed by Sean Gannon - - (an Iowa to LA transplant) is the first ever "found footage romantic comedy". One of the most original films I have ever seen about guy who pays his friend to video tape him asking his girlfriend to marry him. They decide since they have not met each other's family or friends to document their days leading up to the wedding. A GREAT MOVIE!


I also just picked up 4 films from Missouri film maker Blake Eckard - He is the indie king of Americana!

His titles include:

Simple Midwest Story (picked up by Synapse for the their upcoming VOD channel)

BackRoad Blues - (shot on 16mm)

Sinner Come Home - (shot on 16mm)

Bubba Moon Face - (also picked up by Synapse for the their upcoming VOD channel)


Many of his films have not been seen by a whole lot of people. He has been championed by indy film pioneer Jon Jost - - and Dennis Grunes has reviewed two of his films in his book A Short Chronology of World Cinema (read the review of BackRoad Blues here). These films were a treasure of a find. All are dramas of some type.


How do you find movies worth your effort to begin with, and what standards do apply to submissions?


Just send us an email at Make sure to include some information about your film (clips, trailer, website, press, etc).


As far as I know, as we speak Modern American Cinema might go into the theater business as well. Care to elaborate?


A lot of single and twin theaters go out of business these days and cannot compete with multiplexes. We have been infiltrating these markets and reopening them. We created a nice a little business model and work with the towns themselves on these deals. The only way to make it work is offer something that community wants and content that people won't find at the corporate multiplexes.


Our first cinema re-opening is in Fairfield, Iowa (home of Maharishi University and the David Lynch Foundation). The CO-ED Theatre (named CO-ED in the 1950's by the now defunct Parson's College) closed its doors back in September. We are upgrading the projection to digital (and retaining the 35mm projector as well). We are also working with a non-profit group to raise the money to do some additional renovations. The front lobby is being renovated into a "Cinema Cafe" that will be open all day, even when movies are not shown.


What can you tell us about Modern American Cinema's key staff?


Alissa Sheldon in charge of all our community interaction. She was key in getting Home Movie Day off the ground (along with our friends Mark Heggen and Sarah Oltrogge).


Kerri Mullin is a producer who is in a charge of our television show Crowding the Pan with Sam Auen - - and has been pushing our titles into the western television markets.


There is also me. I vacuum floors, water the plants, and take the trash out.


Any other future plans for Modern American Cinema you'd like to share?


We are doing a big push on VOD distribution this year. We got enough titles now that we can start expanding to different mediums rather just releasing DCPs for theaters.

Television has also been in a new adventure for us (previously all we had done was the 30 minute Templeton Rye: Iowa's Good Stuff on on PBS back in October 2011).


Your/your company's website, Facebook, whatever else?


Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


Back in October I was appointed the Director of Marketing for the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts - Donna Reed ( - It's A Wonderful Life!, The Donna Reed Show) was originally from Denison, Iowa. The Foundation was formed in 1986 after she passed away and is located in the Donna Reed Theatre (formerly the Ritz Theatre) in Denison. We provide scholarships and classes for students who are interested in a career in stage, screen, and broadcast. I have been doing a big push on bringing independent and foreign films into rural communities.


I brought the Rural Route Film Festival - - for the first weekend in January. We were also just approved to be a venue for the Community Cinema Program - - through ITVS and PBS. For the Community Cinema Program we show films for free and host a discussion with the audience afterwords.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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from the post-apocalyptic
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD