On April 29, Row House Films announced it bought the theatrical and virtual cinema rights to the film Monuments, described in a press release as a "charmingly quirky indie road-trip comedy." Row House Films will distribute the film to select independent theaters for in-person and virtual-cinema screenings beginning June 4.
Row House Cinema owner Brian Mendelssohn says Row House Films officially launched on April 27. He says they decided to embark on a distribution leg after the pandemic pushed them to focus on online content and streaming films.
Row House Films began in 2020 with the release of the feline-centric Quarantine Cat Film Festival and The Sweded Film Festival, which encouraged people to recreate famous movie scenes much like the characters in the 2008 film Be Kind Rewind. Mendelssohn says the intention was for Row House to "just do distribution of the films that we created ourselves." That changed when their work caught the eye of Monuments writer/director Jack C. Newell and his wife, Rebecca, who works as a programming director for the FilmScene festival in Iowa.
Monuments is now the first narrative film to be released by Row House Films, adding to the company's stated mission of bringing "fresh, new content to arthouse cinemas."
Written and directed by Newell, Monuments follows Ted, a college professor reeling from the sudden death of his wife Laura. Against her family's wishes, the grieving widower takes Laura's cremated ashes on a cross-country trip to Chicago, where he hopes to lay her to rest.
“Monuments is a very personal film that I think audiences will really connect with after the year we’ve all had,” says Newell in a press release. “The cast and crew worked so hard to bring [it] to life and are excited to know that it will be seen by audiences both in theaters and at home. There have been so many times over the past year that we wondered if our film would be able to show on screens, and we’re grateful to both Row House Films and 1091 Pictures for making that possible.”
Mendelssohn says the distribution approach is not new, as other theaters have branched out into the area. This includes Alamo Drafthouse, a popular national theater chain that distributes films through its company Neon. Mendelssohn also cites Music Box Films, a distributor based off of the Chicago-based Music Box Theater, as an inspiration.
"We feel that [theatrical releasing is] an underserved market right now," says Mendelssohn. "It used to be the only market, right? And now it's, no one wants to be there, because there's not a lot of money to be made there. But we feel because everyone's avoiding it, there's a real opportunity to bring films that should be in movie theaters that are on the smaller scale to independent theaters across the country."
Row House Films is currently booking screenings for Monuments. The film will see a 60-day screening window in theaters and online starting on June 4, and prior to digital distribution. After that, 1091 Pictures will handle digital distribution, making Monuments available to purchase or rent beginning August 3.
Mendelssohn explains that he and his team at Row House Cinema are always trying to figure out their next move, and weighed how they could support the local filmmaking and cinephile communities, whether that be through a film festival or more programming.
"We kind of came upon the conclusion that having a film distributor based out of Pittsburgh could really open the doors for a lot of local filmmakers, as well as just kind of have more culture around that sort of thing here, where there are more film jobs, there are more people doing a film," says Mendelssohn.
For now, he says Row House will screen Monuments virtually as the theater has yet to open to the public. He also hopes that other local theaters will show interest in the film.
As for Row House Cinema, Mendelssohn says they are currently hosting private screenings for small groups. They plan on having a soft re-opening for Row House Film Club members at the end of August, followed by a full re-opening at the end of September. He says they are also planning on hosting some drive-in movie events in the city, similar to what they did in the Strip District throughout October 2020.
Whether it's through the theater or the film distribution side, Mendelssohn says Row House is committed to keeping the movie theater experience alive.
"It's how movies are meant to be seen," he says.