The marquee at the Movies on Exchange Street is lit back up, with a new nonprofit group taking over to bring movies on film to Portland again. The Kinonik movie series opened this past First Friday with “The Third Man,” Graham Greene’s story of World War II intrigue set in Vienna and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton and Trevor Howard. The name of the film series comes from the old Kino Kabaret, an innovative filmmaking lab that was founded in Canada.
The recent showing had been delayed by local licensing requirements, and after a few technical difficulties on the night, a packed house enjoyed the flickering film set to Anton Karas’s haunting zither strains.
Peter Bass, of Portland, said he was there 40 years ago when the film was last shown in town, and he was amped to be there for its return.
“It’s like a religion,” he said of the 16-millimeter cinematic experience. “Steve Halpert (the former director of The Movies on Exchange Street) was a great curator with great taste. Back then it was the only option to see movies other than blockbusters.”
The films for the new series are on loan from Juris Ubans, who used to teach film at the University of Southern Maine.
“The young guys are interested to return to celluloid,” he said. “It’s a striking difference (from digital). As it moves through the projector — a series of still images — the movement excites the eye. Digitation puts the eye to sleep. They’re physiological reactions.”
He likened the renewed interest in film to music lovers who yearn for the old days of albums, and is pleased to have a venue for some of his collection, numbering about 400 films, including shorts.
“One of my students, Andy Graham, had the idea to kick this off. He got connected with Peter (Weed) and Skylar (Kelly). This is a good beginning. If it’s a go and successful, I’ll make them accessible. Real film is more like a museum experience. These films are works of art.”
The project was aided in part by SPACE Gallery’s Kindle Fund. Jon Courtney, a film programmer at SPACE, and the Portland Museum of Art have also assisted.
Kelly’s company, Low Motion, operates the theater, and he plans to show additional films on other nights this summer, including “The Blues and the Abstract Truth.” Kelly studied film at Hampshire College in Amherst, Ma. under the tutelage of Ubans. He won the 48-hour film festival in Bangor in 2008, competing against fellow Kinonik board member Nick Loukes. Kelly moved to Portland in 2011, in time to catch a film festival here, and realized immediately the need to bring old films back to town.
Weed is vice-president and treasurer of the board. A Portland-based writer and editor, his work appears in MovieMaker magazine. “We want to introduce the value of a cinematic experience to a new generation of filmgoers,” he said. “We also want to generate thoughtful dialogue about cinema and to establish an appropriate home for film education resources, including Ubans’s films and books.”
With most young moviegoers brought up on big-screen, digitized popular films, the Kinonik crew hopes to introduce many of them to the art of film and to create a shared theater experience like that of the past. The films are shown on the old Bell & Howell projector from the Movies on Exchange that sat in storage for a spell at the Portland Museum of Art.
Renovations to the theater were necessary as the old site had been gutted and the seats removed. “Basically, it was a big oblong box,” Weed said. “We used grant money to refurbish the projector, build a projection booth, and put up a screen.”
The Maine College of Art loaned 88 seats, almost all of which were occupied for the first film. Organizers hope to have as much success with upcoming showings, and are banking on their prime location.
“This place has a cultural resonance with the community,” Weed said. “The Movies were beloved.”
Upcoming Kinonik films on Exchange Street: (Dates may be added.) | Aug. 5 – “Open City” | Sept. 2 – “The Great Dictator” | Oct. 7 – “La Grande Illusion” | Nov. 4 – “Citizen Kane”
Kinonik board members: Nick Loukes | Andy Graham | Jenny Anastasoff | Skylar Kelly | Juris Ubans | Sara Lemieux | Peter Weed
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