The Kenwood Press
: 11/01/2010

Marquee lights dimmed in Oakmont

Yvonne Frauenfelder

The movies at Oakmont are dead, and there will be no more films in the future. With these apocalyptic sentiments, two of the most engaged and founding members of Movies at Oakmont (MAO) appraised the news, that for the foreseeable future all showings of motion pictures in this village were being suspended.

For six years, Mel Ruiz, characterized as the heart and soul of MAO, and his small team have labored thousands of hours to entertain some 40,000 fans during more than 700 screenings. By all accounts this was Oakmont’s most widely attended and successful program in its entire history.

The list of showings encompassed classical movies, blockbusters, foreign flics, art films, and recent releases. Most of the videos came from the impressive collections of the volunteers.

What lies at the core of this “intermission” for the movie goers of Oakmont? Two simple words: “Copyright Infringement,” enunciated under the following statute: Federal Law forbids the reproduction, distribution or exhibition of copyrighted motion pictures, video tapes and video disks...

What is meant by infringement? Is it the showing of movies, at no cost, to a select and closed audience, or is commercial bootlegging the issue?

According to Patricia Arnold, manager of the OVA, the problem extends to the practices adhered to by MAO. She states in her explanation to the community (Oakmont News, October 1, 2010) “The issue at this time concerns lack of licensing for many nearly first-run movies or those from independent studios.”

Approximately one year ago, OVA entered into an agreement with the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC), which covers most big studios. But Mel Ruiz maintains that many popular films shown had been those from independent and foreign film producers, not covered by the contract.

The question is raised, why was there no prior conflict, offering movies without licensing agreements? The answer given by MAO reveals that at the inception of the program, extensive research had shown that retirement villages and senior facilities regularly presented films without contractual obligations. This procedure became adopted by MAO.

However, matters came to a head August 15, with an e-mail to Mel Ruiz and Patricia Arnold, in which an Oakmont resident and video producer had researched upcoming movies and found that not all films were covered under the existing licensing agreement, amounting, therefore, to a breach of copyright laws.

The OVA manager took the matter to the Board of Directors, who, at a Sept. 8 board meeting, unanimously affirmed to enforce the existing policy governing admissible films, and, effective immediately, terminated the presentation of movies not covered by the MPLC contract.

The decision by the OVA Board did not find a good reception at MAO. Mel Ruiz found it impossible to accept the new order and resigned as leader, while his group ceased to exist.

OVA temporarily suspended all showings, and is in the process of finding new volunteers to fill the big shoes of the departed team.

There exists bitterness that Mel Ruiz and his colleagues were not personally informed of the OVA Board taking up the issue, thereby preventing any dialogue before action was taken.

A founding member of MAO, and one of the village’s most respected residents, Bob Hayden, is astounded at how the implosion of all the years of effort, toil and commitment occurred. While recounting his own labor of love for years, he speaks up for Mel Ruiz: “He handled everything; he was our inspiration. If the curtains got stuck, if the sub-titles fell off the screen, if the equipment malfunctioned, he answered hundreds of calls for technical help and literary assistance. He was the lifeblood of the enterprise. I can’t praise him enough for his contribution to Oakmont. OVA has no idea what they are facing without Mel.”

Today, perhaps, we should ask ourselves, was this painful ending necessary? The OVA must follow copyright laws, unquestionably, but could the entire matter have been handled differently? Would a “sitting down” by the parties in good time, discussing the problem, and acknowledging the enormous contribution of MAO, have changed the outcome? Forty-thousand (!) repeat visitors did not have to leave their village because a small band of highly motivated and dedicated volunteers saw to it, at their own expense and time, that great performances could be enjoyed by elderly people, many of whom would not have been able or willing to drive, especially at night.

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