The lights are on at the AFS cinema: After 16 months of closure, the independent arthouse cinema reopens this weekend – Screens
AFS Cinema’s New Improved Lobby (Photos by Jana Birchum)
Mark your calendars and take your seat. AFS Cinema, the Austin Film Society’s two-screen cinema, is back. After 16 months of pandemic shutdown, the films return to the beloved art house on July 15.
The cinema closed on March 17, 2020 – the day the city of Austin limited all in-person gatherings to 10 people. Choosing a reopening date was a complex challenge, filled with major headaches. “The problem was, we couldn’t afford to open twice,” recalled Holly Herrick, AFS Head of Film and Creative Media. The company was already going to have to organize a big fundraising campaign to demolish the cinema, “and we did it, and it was awesome.” The Next Picture Show campaign raised $ 155,378 from 809 donors via GiveLively, well above their goal of $ 150,000, but it would be difficult to go back to members and friends and ask for that kind of money again. . Additionally, AFS couldn’t and wouldn’t open until staff and their audience were comfortable and as safe as possible to return, and that meant waiting for “a post-vaccination period. … When felt like the right time for the community to come together again inside? “
This wait-and-see, security-oriented approach involved keeping the cinema closed, and it was a full-time job for AFS cinema director Aaron Malzahn. He explained, âWhen it all first shut down, we cleaned up and stored all the remaining concessions and turned off the appliances to save power, knowing we could keep the place dark and be gone for a week. or two without hurting anything. ” As the weeks turned into months, he set up maintenance routines ranging from dust protection and checking the spotlights to blowing steam into the espresso machine. âA building looks a lot like a car sitting in the driveway,â he said. “If you don’t turn it on and run it every once in a while, you’ll find that it has just rusted right under your nose.”
This interview made the cinema an unexpected refuge for Malzahn during the great frost of winter. When the power went out in his apartment, he checked in the apps and found that the electricity and water were still working at the cinema, “[so] my girlfriend and I decided to brave the icy roads. âHowever, they couldn’t just snuggle up in the warmth. The cinema also needed protection from the cold.â[I] You had to check the building itself and make sure there were no frozen or burst pipes, that there were no leaks in the roof from snow, and try to extinguish all possible equipment to save energy and protect against electrical surges.
With dark screens, AFS innovates and sets up its own virtual cinema platform, AFS @ Home. Rather than sending their films on conventional VOD, smaller distributors have partnered with arthouse and independent theaters like AFS to broadcast titles, providing a source of revenue to help maintain this vital section of the world. distribution ecosystem alive. âThere was a success story about virtual cinema,â said Lars Nilsen, chief film programmer, âbut there was no way you could see as many people seeing it in virtual as you would have seen even though we played it on a Monday night. “
However, just because it was a limited success doesn’t mean AFS @ Home ends once the theater reopens. The team was surprised at the number of viewers renting outside of Austin, Dallas and Fort. Worth, and they look forward to innovative programming, like providing a home for films that have been shown at festivals but never got a distribution deal. Herrick suggested it could become “an extra screen” that complements what is shown on the big screen. “Being able to put something digital that connects to what we have in theater is just another canvas to work on.”
The priority now is to turn on the lights in the cinema. Behind the scenes, regular maintenance and upgrades made teardown easier and, said Malzahn, âOutside the house we have a full theater staff in place, newly trained and ready to welcome and assist any guests. However, there were subtle challenges, such as reconnecting with old suppliers and contracting new ones. He added: “Supply shortages are hitting many different distributors, and many of the small businesses we were ordering from no longer exist.”
“Sitting here, making it go up a little louder than most movies?” It’s going to be a bit special.– Lars Nilsen, AFS Cinema chief programmer
Programming will also be an essential part of the reopening. Since the cinema opened in 2017, AFS has forged a special reputation – a niche based on diversity – which continues after the pandemic. There will be new versions such as Tower by director Keith Maitland Dear Mr. Brody, and Without getting killed or caught by Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield, exploring the life, love and legacy of Guy Clark, the dean of Texas songwriters. The Essential Cinema series returns with âTales of the Four Seasonsâ by Eric Rohmer, which defines the era of the four seasons, and the cinema can finally show the long-awaited restorations of Wong Kar-Wai’s main works. However, Nilsen and his team will be very attentive to the reception within the lineup, so they will know what to put the most emphasis when the cinema returns to normal. âIt’s more poetry than science,â Nilsen said. “We don’t really know which quadrants of the audience are going to come back and in what order. Could it be that the older people are a little slower to come back to the theater? Could it be that the younger ones are broke?”
For now, the team is looking forward to the joy of the joint cinematic experience. Nilsen was beaming at seeing the opening weekend headline – Questlove’s stunning documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – with a crowd. “Sit here, make it go up a little louder than most movies? It’s going to be a little special.”
The AFS cinema reopens on July 15. Tickets and information at austinfilm.org/afs-cinema.