If the different acts of my life played out like a movie, some of the best scenes would have happened at Cinema Center. There have been scenes that provided a nice surprise twist, such as the time my wife and I attended a screening of what we thought would be Lonesome Jim, but because of misreading the show times were instead treated with Joyeux Noel, a multi-language, World War I-set Christmas film. It has become one of our favorites. It is also the type of film we could have only seen at Cinema Center.
There have been soaring highs, such as the time I saw Duck Soup for the first time, much too late in my life (probably my late teens) at a comedy film festival at Cinema Center, and there have been devastating lows—I am still trying to recover from Blue Valentine.
For me, film is not a way to pass a couple of hours, and I will never identify with those who claim going to the movies is just a good escape. When I am truly honest with myself, I do not even feel film is a popular art form, no matter what my brain may be saying. Everything I experience is through the prism of how it would work in a movie. As far as I am concerned, with no sense of irony or hyperbole, film is life.
Sometimes I wonder if it is a life that I have chosen, but I would prefer it to have chosen me. And, I believe fully that it began to choose me as a teenager going to films at Cinema Center, watching movies I was probably not quite experienced enough to understand, and being exposed to a far wider world that I had no idea existed.
It is true I have always enjoyed films and the experience of watching them in a theater with my fellow cineastes. The first film I can remember seeing in a theater was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and I left it with two inescapable loves: time travel stories and going to the movies. But as I got older, it was at Cinema Center screenings where I have felt inspired to go out and be part of the act of making films.
Without Cinema Center, I would not have attended film school, an endeavor that would take my wife and me all over the country, and return to the place it all began, on the corner of Clay Street and Berry. If I was instructing my screenwriting students, I would say this is the point where the story should end, that balance has returned and the protagonist (me) is much better off than when the story began. I wasn’t lying; I look at everything in relation to how it would play out in a film.
I am much better off than when I left to attend film school in Chicago. I now have the best job in the city. I actually get paid to bring films, important works that would otherwise not be seen in the area, to my home community. But, the story cannot end there. The film industry is changing, and during this first year at the helm of Cinema Center, I have had to deal with the reality that the theater must convert to digital projection in order to remain open.
If we do not make this conversion other young men and women will not have that special place in the community where they can experience films that move them, that inspire them to pick up a camera and start shooting. They will not fall in love with Wong Kar-wai films on the big screen, or learn a little more about everyday life with Woody Allen, or be exposed to the greats who have been long gone such as Ford, Welles, Pickford, and Hitchcock.
If we go back to the assertion that film is life, think of this next stage for Cinema Center as its sequel of sorts. And, this time, you have a chance to play a large role in making sure this sequel is even better than the original.
Help Cinema Center go digital by donating to the Digital Projector Fund today.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center's Executive Director and has hopes of someday being an advisor to the restoration of any of Orson Welles' many lost films.