Cinefamily at night
Photo by Charles Constantine

After Cinefamily’s Demise, Where To Watch Movies

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Beyond the New Beverly, bootstrapping cinephiles have set up incredible and diverse film programming up and down the city. This is your guide.

At the end of 2017, it became increasingly clear that the center could not hold in the film and repertory screening community of Los Angeles. The center, in this case, was Cinefamily, which became in its tenure the fulcrum on which so much activity turned. Allegations of misconduct on the part of Cinefamily co-founder Hadrian Belove and those who allegedly enabled him led to a painful, public reckoning until the much-beloved theater collapsed under immense pressure.

But Los Angeles is a city that spans more than 500 square miles across Southern California, and in the past year, many bootstrappers in the community may have proven that L.A. might not require a “center” when a constellation of diverse, inclusive and challenging film programming is given room to expand.

Though the New Beverly Cinema closed for renovations in January of 2018 — at an inopportune time when there was an immediate need for a venue with Cinefamily gone — they’ve since reopened and now boast weekday matinee screenings that regularly draw more than a hundred people in the middle of the day. This is in part thanks to programming and social media wiz Phil Blankenship who has screened the likes of hothouse drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” French crime caper “Rififi” and even ’90s cult classic “Party Girl,” including a Q&A with the director, Daisy von Scherler Mayer. But what about the other cinemas that don’t have the major-name backing of someone like Quentin Tarantino?

Most cited as a haven for rep film fans of all kinds are the American Cinematheque theaters: the Egyptian and Aero in Hollywood and Santa Monica, respectively. Their audience has grown even more devoted, with former Cinefamily regulars renewing their love for American Cinematheque.

Former Cinefamily and American Cinematheque employee William Morris — who is now at Music Box Theater in Chicago  — highlights the work of Jim Branscome, who built up the Cinematic Void screening series, which focuses on “cult films and oddball gems of all genres.”

“He brought a lot of people to the Egyptian that never even knew it existed,” Morris says.

Recent programming included a marathon event featuring seven Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi films with a treasure trove of old commercials starring various monsters as the interstitial entertainment.

Aside from the genre offerings, however, Morris points out their incredible work on director retrospectives, including a larger retrospective based on the Kino Lorber release, “Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.”

Bret Berg, theatrical sales director of the American Genre Film Archive, considers the Cinematheque one of L.A.’s greatest film resources.

“Any major town needs an institution that provides foundational film knowledge, and American Cinematheque has been the most consistent in making sure canonical things are represented,” Berg says.

But Los Angeles is a city that spans more than 500 square miles across Southern California, and in the past year, many bootstrappers in the community may have proven that L.A. might not require a “center” when a constellation of diverse, inclusive and challenging film programming is given room to expand.

Despite the Cinematheque’s strong points, it’s clear that all movie houses in the city have a ways to go in terms of diversifying the canon. Blackout Cinema steps in to take up some of that weight. A pop-up movie house located inside the MOments Playhouse just south of L.A. City College, Blackout Cinema focuses specifically on films with black artists in front of and behind the camera. Recent screenings of “The Wiz,” “Lady Sings the Blues” and “Fame” quickly sold out, and an upcoming screening of “Krush Groove” will likely do the same.

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Nearby in Echo Park, the Echo Park Film Center would also like to hold some of that weight. Both an educational institution and screening house, the Film Center is a much-admired institution. Morris says their board genuinely represents the fabric of the city.

“They’re actually about the community, not just trying to pretend,” Morris says.

Their strengths in programming lay in highlighting local independent filmmakers, along with what Morris describes as “cool curiosities and deep cuts.”

For those looking for a weirder experience, one can head to Now Instant Image Hall and Veggie Cloud, both located in Highland Park. Both program what Morris calls “hard art” films, which he concedes can be alienating to some audiences, but he emphasizes their welcoming attitudes.

KJ Relth, a film programmer for the UCLA Film & Television Archive agrees. Relth points out that Sam Raphael, a former volunteer trailer editor for Cinefamily, is one of the founders of Now Instant and perhaps understands the aesthetic of creating community, though without the toxic cliques.

“Now Instant is for people who feel intimidated by an academic atmosphere but are still curious about that work,” Morris says. “It doesn’t feel like you have to be some sort of intellectual to be there.”

The same goes for Veggie Cloud, founded by Courtney Stephens and Kate Wolf, which hosts a collection of that “hard art” along with more immediately accessible programming for an inviting mix. A recent program that was an extension of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Working Women series was standing room only, a testament to the community’s desire for such entertainment.

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And the work of the UCLA Film & TV Archive in Westwood is worth mentioning for their robust programming and willingness to reach into the community, especially in the last two years.

“If there’s a venue that celebrates L.A. on film, the Archive and the Billy Wilder Theater is where it happens the most,” Berg says.

But what if you’re looking for a slice of old Los Angeles? The Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, “home of the Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ” is a delight. Every weekend, filmgoers can see Golden Hollywood gems like “Shall We Dance” and “Houdini.” On the other side of town, Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater may have moved from its Echo Park location to new Highland Park duds, but most of the original theater will make the move, while a new all-ages screening series presented by the Vidiots Foundation will be included. Vidiots, many will remember, was a video store and cultural hub that lost its Santa Monica brick-and-mortar location in 2017 before reinventing itself as a film preservation non-profit.

Vidiots Executive Director Maggie Mackay says the series (likely starting summer 2019) will be once-monthly at first and titled Movies for Everybody, with an emphasis on films the whole family can enjoy, though “family” is a flexible term.

“Do you have to be a child or have a child to come to them? No,” Mackay says. “If there’s a film that calls out to you, join us. But we’re also filling in what we feel is a bit of a gap in programming for the younger set.”

Screenings will also include special guests doing storytimes or leading workshops, and the traditional post-performance ice cream typical of Bob Baker’s theater.

The Bob Baker partnership, however, is only one of a few Vidiots Foundations screening partnerships, initiatives that will keep the former brick-and-mortar video store turned non-profit in the public eye until they can open their own community space. They’re also working on a screenings series with a group called Projections at the Bootleg Theatre to screen rare 16mm films (Michael Powell’s “The Edge of the World” screens April 14th), a series of VHS film screenings with The Black List, and yet another series of popular film screenings at the Ace Hotel — “Heathers” is up next, scheduled for April 18, with a Q&A of special guests from the movie present.

What’s becoming apparent is that a rotation of programming from different sources all over the city tends to find its audience. Acropolis Cinema travels between the Downtown Independent, Billy Wilder Theater, Echo Park Film Center and other gallery spaces. And then, there’s Women & Film, a community of film lovers founded by Natalie Fält that stages monthly events at places like Now Instant Image Hall.

“The common theme here is the venue-less nature of the majority of these outfits,” Relth says, lamenting the difficulty of finding a place in the city that can show every kind of cinema on the same screen. Obviously, institutions like REDCAT  in downtown will continue serving their devoted arts community, and new spots like Zebulon in Frogtown will find what Berg calls their “own brand of fun.” But absolutely everything is on the table and simultaneously in flux in the L.A. film scene.

Who knows how the L.A. movie landscape will change in the near future when, for instance, dinner-and-a-movie chain Alamo Drafthouse drops into downtown later this summer? Or when Vidiots opens a two-screen venue and backyard screenings keep popping up? Further down the road in 2021, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be exhibiting works from George Lucas’ private collection in Exposition Park.

“In the next six to 12 months,” Berg says, “things are going to shift radically. What I see is the rep[ratory] film scene is just getting more, period. It’s just more. And that’s great.”

Los Angeleno