This new year brings a new player to the Los Angeles repertory cinema scene: Film critic (and my colleague) Jordan Cronk has started Acropolis Cinema, a mobile screening series dedicated to experimental and avant-garde film, both classic and contemporary. The series kicks off January 13 at the Los Feliz 3 with the L.A. premiere of La última película, a comedy about “a conceited, blindly ambitious filmmaker attempting to mount an elaborate production in the Yucatán wilderness on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse.” (Tickets are available here.) While Acropolis isn’t Los Angeles’s first attempt at bringing more unique programming to the masses—The LA Filmforum highlights explores experimental video from Southern California’s post-war era with Alternative Projections; Cinefamily is always digging up something weird and interesting with series like La Collectionneuse and genre festivals like SpectreFest—it is hoping to bolster the city’s awareness of obscure celluloid.
We spoke with Cronk about his purpose in starting Acropolis, what it takes to bring a screening series to life, and how we can expect it to fold into L.A.’s rep scene.
Give us a quick summary of Acropolis’s mission, the issues you want to address regarding experimental/avant-garde/unreleased film programming in L.A., and the kind of films you hope to showcase with the series.
Ideally, Acropolis would address an issue that has seemingly plagued Los Angeles for years: the availability of experimental films. I say “seemingly” because this isn’t as glaring a problem as many voices and publications may make it seem. We have a number of organizations out here which screen experimental films year-round. Now, the visibility of these initiatives among the greater cinephile community is another thing altogether, as is the type of films that these organizations tend to favor. What I believe Acropolis can help bolster, then, is twofold: The profile of our experimental and art house scene and the awareness of these organizations’ combined efforts, and our programming infrastructure (which is to say, the variety of films offered).
To make a rather obvious statement, there are many different kinds of experimental films out there—movements and scenes and trends that even a handful of organizations cannot hope to collectively cover. Acropolis Cinema is simply an attempt to alleviate some of these concerns. That said, I think it’s important to note that bringing unreleased feature films to Los Angeles is only part of our goal. We’ll also be screening avant-garde shorts and medium-length works, as well as older experimental films.
Is there anything in particular that spurred you to create Acropolis now? How long have you been working to make this a reality, and how long did you have the idea to do it beforehand?
I’ve been vaguely thinking about launching something similar to this for the last couple of years, mainly in response to others within the cinephile community complaining about such-and-such film not screening in Los Angeles—a gripe I’ve shared on many occasions! But I’d say the idea became much more concrete this past year. I meet many filmmakers, programmers, and distributors at film festivals, and I’ve had many conversations about the cinematic woes we need to address in Los Angeles with these same people, who in many cases either offered encouragement or actual opportunities with regard to the realization of this project. I’m also partially employed as a freelance film critic, something that, with the state of criticism being what it is, isn’t likely to evolve into a full-time career. So rather than compromise my relationship with criticism, I thought of expanding it in another direction.
In building a programming schedule, are you starting with what you yourself would want to see screened in L.A. and working from there?
The films that screen under the Acropolis banner will always inevitably reflect my taste or filmic sensibility, if you will. That said, I’m trying to approach the programming from the vantage of someone like me—which is to say, someone with similar interests, who does not have the opportunity to see these films in other contexts—and what that person would like to see brought to Los Angeles. What the city lacks is an immediate outlet for films that are being written about and discussed in certain publications and among certain cinephile circles. A majority of important films do make it to Los Angeles in one form or another, but it’s often months or years after their window of interest has passed.
I’d like to get films off the festival circuit and to Los Angeles audiences quicker, or if they’re unable to obtain distribution outside of New York, to work with the distributor in question to at least arrange for a Los Angeles premiere. The first few films we’re screening have largely been the result of connections I’ve made. But each film is its own unique concern. Just because I have access to a film or the blessing from a distributor or the rights holder doesn’t mean I can line up an appropriate venue for that title. With the kinds of films we’re dealing with, the market is intrinsically much narrower and more nuanced than even your typical art house fare. So in a general sense, you might say I’m pursuing films that I like that are also of current interest to your engaged or more plugged-in cinephile.
What’s the process of approaching production companies, filmmakers, distributors, etc. in regards to showcasing their movies?
So far I’ve gone directly to the filmmakers (or, in some cases, they’ve come to me). But again, that’s due to circumstance. If I know a film has had trouble finding distribution here, or one that likely doesn’t have a chance of even finding an outlet here, then it’s more proactive to contact the filmmaker directly. After all, they want their films to screen here! And, of course, there’s no middleman, which is a nice bonus. I’m also talking with certain distributors about arranging screenings of films they have the rights to. I envision it as likely being a combination of both approaches as we proceed.
How about setting up a screening? You’ve already held events at the Los Feliz 3 and Automata; what other spaces do you have in mind?
As I briefly mentioned above, each location will depend on the film. The Los Feliz 3 is a great space to host Acropolis’ inaugural event, but it’s not a space we’ll likely return to often, largely because it’s an established art house with obligations to distributors that are difficult for an operation as new as Acropolis to negotiate. A majority of our screenings will likely be held at spaces akin to Automata: smaller, more intimate art spaces—or, in some cases, venues that don’t normally screen films. We do, however, have places like Cinefamily and the Downtown Independent on our radar. The latter is somewhere I hope to screen at eventually; amongst other things, they’re located on the east side of the city, which is where I’d like to focus our efforts.
Do you see Acropolis as always being mobile or eventually finding a space to “settle into,” whether that’s an existing rep venue or a new place?
In a perfect world, Acropolis will be a great success as an itinerant screening series, so much so that we could eventually settle on a single location, or even better, open as a whole new theater with the same programming initiative. That’s a long way down the road, of course, but if you’re not looking to grow and expand your audience, then I’m not sure why you’d want to do something like this anyway.
Do you think art house cinema has something to offer to average whatever you want to call them moviegoers?
I do think part of the seeming disinterest in experimental film among more casual filmgoers is due to a certain lack of awareness. But that’s more a problem with the state of journalism and film criticism (something else I’m obviously invested in), which is a topic for a whole other interview. I’m aware that a majority of the films that Acropolis will screen are of niche interest, but I also think that there is a bigger audience for these films than is currently being served. And I think the first step toward raising awareness is getting these films in viewers’ purview, whether that’s through advertising or word of mouth or simply by infiltrating different areas of the city that often aren’t catered to. The goal is to create such a strong awareness for the name “Acropolis Cinema” that viewers will continue to take chances on our programming whether they’re familiar with the films or not. It may be a naive notion, but if we’re loyal to the spirit of the films, I believe audiences will be equally loyal in return.