As expected from a city where “retrospectives” merely involve showing the available Blu-ray releases from a given director in a university lecture hall, the Cinémathèque Internationale of Philadelphia is simply an overly fancy (I’m sure some of you are thinking obnoxious) name for the newest addition to Philadelphia’s aspiring film exhibitors. For the past seven months, Executive Director Amber Lauletta has been screening Criterion Collection DVD releases with $10 admission fees (alongside an $85 six month membership option) at the all-purpose nightclub L’etage (Sixth and Bainbridge). While the series’ inclusion of occasional guest speakers (think local nonprofit, cultural affairs, and adjunct film professor-types) may warrant admission fees in the minds of some people, Cinedelphia would never endorse a program that charges money for digital projections of easily attainable films (it’s your money though so spend it how you’d like, but keep in mind that $10 is a month’s worth of Netflix as well as $3 more than the admission fees for the true repertory film screenings held at the International House…also, if you can just show a DVD in public and charge people $10 a head to attend then why aren’t more people cashing in on this concept?). Amber herself readily admits that the group is continuously evolving as she learns the ways of film exhibition and while they may currently lack creative programming, a functioning website, and a general grasp on the Philadelphia film community, she promises changes for the better in 2012 including a new site and the screening of films that haven’t received U.S. distribution. And yes, according to Amber they do acquire screening licenses, and no, they’re not a registered nonprofit…yet.
Cinedelphia recently spoke with Amber regarding her professional background, the importance of foreign films, and her opinions on Philadelphia’s moviegoing public.
CINEDELPHIA: What are the origins of the Cinematheque [I’ll ignore the accents from here on out]?
Amber Lauletta: I just started it on a lark. I screened a film by myself and it got a really great response. I saw that there was an opportunity to offer more foreign films in downtown Philadelphia and that there was a need for a community around these films. People really are looking for ways to connect with other people. I thought that having conversation as well as film would be an interesting combination.
CINEDELPHIA: So is that your mission statement, to form a community of sorts?
AL: There are three parts to the mission and I think that forming a community is something that will just come with it. The real mission is to engage multicultural diversity and conversation about that and using the platforms of film and video art, which has a narrative quality to it, it’s a universal medium. Using film and discussions about film in a historical and cultural context and the experience of the medium itself builds a platform that promotes culture and understanding. And also, looking for a way to sort of promote Philadelphia, enrich Philadelphia, offer new and exciting things in Philadelphia and connect it a little bit more with the international scene.
C: So you’re saying that the conversation is as equally important as the films themselves.
C: How do you go about holding these conversations, do you have a moderator or guest speaker?
AL: It’s a combination. For the past seven months it’s been something that I’ve been practicing. I’ve found that it works best to have a speaker come in who is knowledgeable about film or an aspect of film or a culture…I have a volunteer now who is working on getting a speaker for every screening.
C: You’re the Executive Director/Founder of the Cinematheque, what are your credentials?
AL: I have a background in visual arts and I lived in Paris for three years where I did independent curating and working independently with artists. I have a lot of experience with organizing events and showcasing art.
C: The backgrounds of your collaborators seem to be quite varied, from poets to recent film program graduates, a varied collective.
AL: We are working on a new website and I have a smaller group of volunteers now, mostly from the world of film. The programming manager is a recent graduate from University of Arts…she’s an entrepreneur in the film world. The production coordinator is also a filmmaker and teacher. Then we have someone who is a musician who is my administrative assistant and I have a photographer and videographer who is a photographer and videographer, that’s what he does, he knows a lot about film.
C: I believe there is a section on your website where you can call him if you need video work.
AL: That website right now is just a placeholder, we’ll probably have the new website up and running on Thursday.
This is such a new thing and I’m figuring out what it needs to be. I had a lot of great volunteers over the summer who went on to do different things and I think that the group I have now is a lot more committed.
C: The term Cinematheque usually refers to a physical space or an archive. Where are your events held?
AL: Well, it’s full name is Cinémathèque Internationale of Philadelphia. The events right now are held at L’etage, a cabaret space that’s an extension of Beau Monde, the crêperie at Sixth and Bainbridge. They have various events there, they’re also a bar, they host a lot of silly fringe comedy groups or cabaret or other film things and salsa dancing nights and DJ stuff on the weekends. An eclectic event space.*
Cinematheque, yes, refers to an archive. Cinematheque Francaise in Paris is an archive, they work with a lot of different organizations to keep film up and alive and active. I really just chose this word because I see my organization as a showcase…there isn’t another outlet [for these films] in Philadelphia except maybe International House in West Philly.
C: Did you worry that the name would be alienating?
AL: I thought about that a lot. No, I think that it could be alienating, but in a city like Philadelphia anything new can be alienating because that’s the culture of our city, to stay in the old methods of doing things, to stay in our comfort zone. I wanted to offer something that was a little bit of a challenge, but people would find out that this thing is actually not intimidating or exclusive, it’s actually a place where they can have a new experience.
C: It does seem like you’re targeting a discriminating group of filmgoers.
AL: That’s exactly right. Anyone who is coming to our films is probably not someone who is going to be going to the Riverview. It’s going to be someone who knows a little bit about film or a lot about film or someone who wants to know a lot about film. It’s not exclusively the Criterion Collection that we will be using. Again, we are using good films and good filmmakers, I use “good” in terms of wholehearted, thoughtful work. We use the medium to give a perspective on another culture so that we can have easier access to understand other cultures and other countries. Just the way we’re geographically situated in this country we don’t have a lot of access to what’s really going on in other countries. I’ve traveled a lot all over the world and realized that it’s something quite different than what you’re seeing on the news. Take for example what’s going on in the Middle East. Most Americans have an idea of what’s going on there, I’ve lived there and it’s not what we think it is. So if I can bring films from a lot of these areas that are not getting mass audiences and large publicity then we can say “Oh, they don’t live like heathens”. That’s the real goal here.
C: And I guess that’s a goal you’re aspiring towards because so far you’ve only shown French films and Criterion releases that are readily available for home viewing.
AL: We work with U.S. distributors and in 2012 we have some U.S. distributors and some films that are not distributed in the U.S. We’ll have to work with the distributors in those countries. We also hope to work with video artists.
C: Why should Cinedelphia readers who have easy access to the films that you show leave their homes?
AL: I think that’s a really great question because I watch movies on Netflix myself and I understand that comfort. I would say there’s something special that happens when you are viewing a film in a group of people who you will later be talking to in a social way. It’s not a normal moviegoing experience, it’s like a group of friends watching a film together. There have been moments at my screenings where there has been collective laughter. It’s not just watching a film, people should come out if they want to meet other people or have a wonderful atmosphere to watch a film and be thoughtful about what they’re seeing, take it to the next level.
C: We’ve seen organizations like yours come and go over the years, do you have a long-term plan in mind?
AL: Absolutely. I’m very confident of that. There have been a lot of flash in the pans in Philly and I’m going to do my best to stick around as long as I can. That’s the goal here. I have a long-term goal of making this a physical space and making it a nonprofit, I’ve talked to people about getting on board.
C: What are some of your personal favorite outlets in the city for film?
AL: I-House has some really interesting things going on, I saw a really interesting film out there, a Chris Marker film?
C: Sans Soleil, yeah I was there [June 17, 2011].
AL: I really loved it, it reminded me of being in college again and seeing some avant-garde film with a speaker. I think they are a great outlet for watching films. I know that Secret Cinema does some really interesting stuff, I really enjoy what they do, but to be honest with you I’m one of those people that sits at home and watches films. So as part of my research I’m finding all of these film festivals to go out and see, but it takes research.
C: That’s why Cinedelphia is here. So you were a homebody type who watched films indoors and now you’re in public trying to get people to join you.
AL: I’m an extremely social person, but I never watched films with other people, that was a private thing that I did on my own and I only now realize that I’m a cinephile. I get why you want to stay at home and not want to sit with strangers.
C: And now you’re learning the difficulties of gaining an audience for public screenings.
AL: I can’t say for sure, but my impression is that it might be a cultural Philadelphia thing. It rained on one of my screening nights and no one that said they were going to come out did, it’s really interesting.
Tomorrow night (WED, November 30) the Cinémathèque Internationale of Philadelphia presents Jean-Luc Godard’s In Praise of Love (2001) at L’etage at 7:00 PM with guest speaker Dr. Chris Simmons from Arcadia University. General admission is $10, $5 for students and artists (including filmmakers).
And we’ll definitely be keeping our eye on them throughout 2012…for better or worse.
* Amber submitted the following addition post-interview: When you asked why folks should come out, I forgot to mention the crêpes! The menu at L’Etage is from the resto downstairs, Beau Monde, some of the best crêpes in the city. Food and conversation are what make the screening unique.