Apr 9, 2014

Microcinemas Up-Close: SPECTACLE

by Curtis John

One of the things that I’ve become silently obsessed with since the beginning of the Curating Moving Images class is how microcinemas work. It is a term I had heard before, and was aware that there were a decent amount of in the New York City area, but it was not until recently that I got a chance to actually visit one. 

Our reading of the journal Incite (vol. #4 – Exhibition Guide) and the visit from its editor Walter Fosburg was the impetus for this new fascination.  While I had slightly researched a few of them prior to the reading, it is the commitment that so many of these microcinema owners and programmers possess toward ensuring that their audiences and the public-at-large should be exposed to film and works that they otherwise would probably never see that compounded my interest.

Prior to my visit to Spectacle  I had been invited to one microcinema (whose name I can’t remember), attended another (UnionDocs), and last night realized I regularly went to yet another that was moreso dubbed a ‘gastropub theater’ as it was behind the restaurant/bar ReBar (reRun).  The latter was a cool space that after becoming rather popular grew unfavorable to many after its initial curator left.  UnionDocs I consider to be exactly how they describe themselves – a center for documentary art that “promote[s] marginalized stories, under-represented facts, and interdependent networks,” though they are classified as microcinema in Incite and multiple other places. The first place was in Crown Heights and I looked it up when I was invited and just considered it way too grimy for a good cinematic experience.

Spectacle is an odd combination of the three.  A new friend invited me there for a screening of his short film and as I’d wanted to see the space, I doubly agreed to attend.  An hour before the screening Spectacle was closed and no signage or schedule on the front door made me triple-check if I was in the correct place.   Only past program posters (among multiple other oddities) glued to the windows confirmed this was indeed Spectacle.   Forty minutes later we returned and other than the co-owner/projectionist, were the first to arrive; the curator of this particular series arrived two minutes.  As my filmmaker friend was from London and I from a more organized programming world, we were both clueless to this culture of lateness that seemed to be normal to the Spectacle world.  The programmer was really cool though and with her cute British accent assailed my fears of this being a bad event.  As other guests trickled in the programmer went to the bodega to get beer and Pepsi for a select few.
The inside of Spectacle was better than its exterior. Though it maintains a (hopefully) deliberately grimy appearance, the seats were old cinema style and most likely from a recently renovated school auditorium – uniform in appearance but tight in feeling – falling within its film charter of “lost and forgotten.”  I didn’t do an official count, but I’d say it fits about 45-50 people in the main section, with extra folding chairs on the side in case of packed house, which this very much was. 

About forty minutes later the program began, and while the homemade (and lengthy) trailer put the shorts to be presented in context – the first film, my new friend’s film, had no audio.  As they scrambled he reminded me how nonchalant the programmer was when I asked about a ‘tech test’ and I mentioned during my film presentations I always have backups upon backups as technology is as hindering as it is helpful.  Almost ten minutes later I suggested to them to use a different video player (RealPlayerSP) and the film finally had sound.  I also told my friend to always bring a backup DVD of his film).  In spite of the time and technical fumbles, which I highlight for story functions not through any judgmental reasons (as they have happened to me as well), the program was pretty excellent. The Q&A morphed into a post-talk on sex trafficking and the feminine voice/gaze, a heavy mix of the personal and political. 

And despite my initial displeasure, upon leaving I realized that Spectacle is a pretty remarkable place.  The loose atmosphere, apparently a tenant of their charter or just a general rule-of-thumb (and the spirit of which was gleaned from the Incite profile), allows for an open exchange of work and ideas which as an artist is usually very welcome.  One can feel the community-oriented vibe of the bustling microcinema, one that if you are willing, you can fit right into it.  

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