Issue 2 | August 2014 (Cambridge, MA)

London's Hot Tub Cinema
London’s Hot Tub Cinema

Foraging for cinemas across Europe | Finding inspiration | (Finally!) formulating my route

Having already foraged for festivals and conferences (see Issue 1), I’m now beginning to research independent cinemas and alternative film series along my prospective route. I’ll be prioritizing festivals (see the aforementioned “most bang for my buck” phenomenon) and conferences (see the aforementioned “funding support from my home institution” clause), but even so I’ll have to make some tough choices. As another process of elimination, I plan to apply to obtain press credentials and present papers at those festivals and conferences on my wanted list, and allow the results to determine ultimately which I’ll attend.

Among my inspirations for conceiving this project are three figures who also have undertaken cinephile journeys, though in an admittedly more intrepid vein: the veteran indie film producer-distributor Jon Pierson, who moved his family to Fiji for a year to run the remote 180 Meridian Cinema, chronicled in the 2005 documentary Reel Paradise; Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno’s 2009 documentary Sacred Places, about another struggling theater in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley’s year-long traveling project to watch foreign television.

Other inspirations came in the form of theaters I’ve been a habitué of over the years, like the New Beverly, Cinefamily, and American Cinematheque in Hollywood and the Brattle, Coolidge, and Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge. And more recently, in the alternative theatrical sites and styles responsible for a revival in movie-going, threatened by the annoyances of the multiplex and conveniences of home viewing. One of the key strategies for art/indie cinemas to stay in business has been by selling food and alcohol, as with the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn and the inspired Cocktails & Conversation series at Popcorn Noir in Easthampton, MA. Another lure is to stage screenings in incongruous settings: cemeteries (Cinespia at Hollywood Forever), rooftops (Brooklyn-based Rooftop Films), even hot tubs (London’s Hot Tub Cinema)! Though what these last three evince in ingenuity and cinephile community-building, they lack in audiovisual excellence, given the challenging sightlines and crowd noise.

Another enticing but elitist model is the growth of exclusive membership screenings such as the New York Times Film Club, where annual fees starting at $125 buy you access to premieres followed by “talkbacks” with filmmakers and casts. As with most film festival and boutique cinemas (not to mention commercial multi-plexes), movie-going has become the province of those with ample disposable income. I’ve noted to make it a special focus of my project to be on the lookout for and to spotlight those venues and offerings affordable to all cinephiles.

So I’m building a list of art/indie cinemas and alternative film venues/events across Europe. Two terrifically helpful sources for identifying the best of the brick-and-mortar cinemas have been the website Cinema Treasures, co-founded by my graduate school classmate/friend and UCSB film professor Ross Melnick, as well as The Guardian’s reader-reviewed series “Cine-files”. I welcome any and all recommendations from readers!

Devilish details…

A trip this meandering is a complicated puzzle to sort out, and at this stage can feel overwhelming. Though because I’m using miles to fly to and from the U.S., I need to settle on my embarkation and debarkation points in the next month. Since the first fixed date I have is the Transylvania Film Festival during the first week of June, I have my sights on flying to Istanbul (where I’ve been yearning to go, and which is conveniently just across the Black Sea from Romania). As for a place to end up after my last fixed date, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival mid-July in Prague, I am tempted by Paris: it is inarguably the cinephile city, with more independent cinemas per capita than any other, so if it turns out I have a surplus of time on my hands I’ll have plenty to choose from. Another option is saving Berlin for last, given that it’s affordable (in case I’m running low on funds) and closer-by. Having only ever visited during the depths of winter (see my Personal Statement in Issue 1), I’m excited to return and check out any biergarten ciné-clubs or other seasonal spots. Though I was recently disappointed to hear from a colleague familiar with Berlin film-going that movies there are routinely dubbed for theatrical exhibition. Unfortunately this is still the practice in much of the world (Italy in particular is an infamous offender), and I’m hoping to avoid places where dubbing is standard practice.

Once in Europe, I plan to take advantage of the Eurail Select Pass, which will allow me unlimited travel by rail in four continuous countries over two months, though I anticipate having to accept some less romantic modes of transportation such as RyanAir. For accommodation, I’m hoping to use Airbnb wherever available — probably not in Lapland. None of the festivals I’m planning to attend have finalized their 2015 dates, though the Film Festival Life website promises to provide timely updates. Luckily these transportation and accommodation options can be scheduled much closer to the time of my trip, and some even while en route. So while my itinerary is very much subject to change, at this stage it follows this tentative route:

Departing last week of May for Istanbul.

1st week of June: travel to Romania for the Transylvania Film Festival, tentatively scheduled for May 30 to June 8, held in the country’s second-largest city, Cluj-Napoca (which I hope will allow for some touring of the surrounding countryside and castles).

2nd – 3rd weeks of June: venture overland to Budapest and Vienna, with a possible side-trip to Dublin (via plane) should my paper be accepted for the Console-ing Passions Conference.

4th week of June – 1st week of July: fly to Bologna for first half of Il Cinema Ritrovato, then on to Munich for second half of Munich International Film Festival; both are tentatively scheduled June 27 – July 5.

2nd week of July: travel overland to the Czech Republic for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, tentatively scheduled July 4 – 12, visiting Prague en route.

3rd week of July: travel overland to Berlin.

4th week of July: fly to Paris, then home.

This tentative itinerary leaves out a number of events I was excited about, namely the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Lapland and the Screen Conference in Glasgow. But there will be future occasions for far-flung destinations and stimulating conferences; in fact, I just learned about the NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) Conference, held in mid-June in a different European city annually, so perhaps it will be geographically feasible for me to attend. And I may well cave and catch a quick flight to the Arctic Circle, especially if I were to acquire a press pass. In any case, this latest incarnation is a far more direct, condensed route of travel. Just having worked it out makes me feel less overwhelmed…

And for the time being, I have a more immediate new adventure with devilish details all its own: in a matter of days, I’m moving to Philadelphia to start a teaching position at University of the Arts. While I don’t know the city well, it appears to have a world-class art scene so I anticipate its film scene will have a good deal to offer as well. I’m already holding a ticket for a September 13 event at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute featuring one of my favorite directors, David Lynch, in conversation with long-time Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey. I’m also excited for ongoing film happenings in my “part-time” city of Boston, in particular the Harvard Film Archive screening of Greek filmmaker Athina Tsangari’s latest, Chevalier, with Tsangari in attendance. So look forward to more film musings to come!

Coming attractions: Foraging for films in Philly…