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Next month marks a year since most of us bought a movie ticket, paid for a bag of popcorn at a concession stand and settled into a dark, flickering theater filled with people. Since cinemas have been shut since last March per the governor’s orders, the cinema void hit film lovers particularly hard this winter. It’s a time when many would ordinarily be going out to see the standout films of awards season before the Golden Globe and Academy Award ceremonies.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Santa Fe was known as a prime destination for film lovers, with two mainstream Regal Cinemas and three destinations for quirkier fare: Violet Crown, the Center for Contemporary Arts Cinemateque and The Screen. Last fall’s departure of longtime CCA Cinemateque director Jason Silverman compounded a sense of uncertainty among Santa Fe art house filmgoers. CCA Cinemateque, which opened in 1983, programmed and ran three screens in town, including The Screen, which operated on the closed-down former campus of Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
According to CCA CEO April Jouse, “The cinema provides almost all of our earned income. It makes up about 50% of our budget.”
Last year, CCA let all box office staff go. Jouse says making up the lost income from CCA Cinemateque and The Screen won’t be easy; for CCA to break even on screenings means theaters have to be at least half full.
But, with the help of Silverman, CCA pivoted to virtual programming faster than many other local institutions, establishing the Living Room Series to screen new and classic films on Zoom for a $10 admission fee. The virtual screenings include roundtable discussions with filmmakers and movie experts. The series has been going strong since last spring, providing unique opportunities for audiences otherwise stuck at home to connect with programmers and other film buffs. All the Living Room Series conversations and Q&As are also archived on the CCA website, making it easy for viewers to watch films on their own time and then connect with the panels.
“We have some really creative people on our team who are used to thinking flexibly,” says Jouse of the CCA staff and board members.
That board includes film editor Paul Barnes, a longtime collaborator of filmmaker Ken Burns. At CCA’s request, Barnes stepped into Silverman’s shoes as a guest program curator. The result has made for some of the most dynamic movie-via-Zoom offerings in town. Those include a Feb. 5 sneak preview of filmmaker Danny Lyons’ “SNCC,” a new documentary that brings together hundreds of photos taken by Lyons beginning in 1962, when he took a job as staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The movie traces the civil rights movement of the 1960s through the lens of Lyons’ long friendship with Freedom Rider and politician John Lewis, who died in July.
“I think some of the most exciting programming we have had has been some of our more obscure stuff,” Jouse says. “We had a movie about stuntwomen (“Stuntwomen: An Appreciation”) that was wonderful. For me, it’s the programs that have more of a niche audience. I find those interesting.”
She adds that “Feels Good Man,” a documentary about the alt-right co-opting of internet meme Pepe the Frog, is another unlikely film that has been embraced by audiences.
Before he departed CCA, Silverman enlisted a trio of panelists to host the Lost Classics Series. The panelists, who research each Lost Classics selection before a Zoom screening and discussion, are Barnes, writer-director-producer-choreographer Joan Tewkesbury, director of the unsung classic “Old Boyfriends” (1979), and film curator Mara Fortes.
“Joan came to Jason and said, ‘Is there some way I can help?’ ” Barnes explains. “I had been proposing some programs about older classics to present. And then Mara had done a fabulous program on Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” a great film from the past year about a teenage girl trying to get an abortion in New York City. Jason thought the three of us would be a great combo.”
The trio is gearing up for a program on Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 film “The Conformist” on Feb. 12.
“It’s an examination of the appeal of Fascism and being drawn into that kind of system of authoritarian government,” Barnes says. “I think it fits in exactly with what’s happening to a lot of people around the country, to be drawn to some authoritarian figures. It’s also absolutely stunningly beautiful to look at, and the acting is top-notch.”
Other upcoming Living Room Series offerings include a documentary about “the dean of Texas songwriters,” Guy Clark. “Without Getting Killed or Captured” is directed by Clark’s biographer Tamara Saviano, and focuses on the triangular relationship between Clark, his wife Susanna, and singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt.
Barnes has also managed to talk Tewkesbury, who chose “The Conformist” for the Lost Classics Series and wrote the film “Nashville” (1975), into an upcoming Zoom panel about the making of Robert Altman’s classic.
“The politics Altman was exploring in the mid-1970s with Nashville are still quite relevant,” he says. “We’re just trying to keep the choices we make in line with what’s happening socially in the country right now.”