Brooklyn Exhibition Spaces

By Nick Dawson | October 12, 2010
Slide 1: Introduction

Brooklyn, the setting for Focus Features’ comedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story and also the home of its writer-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, is arguably the hippest of the five boroughs and is a hub of filmmaking talent. However, it’s not only great movies and their makers that are to be found there, it’s also a great place to see cinema of all kinds. In the following slideshow, we look at some of the most interesting film exhibition spaces in Brooklyn, from the movie theater-cum-eatery indieScreen, which opened in summer 2010, through to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an arts venue that has been in existence since 1861.

Slide 2: Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series

The Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series, which holds free screenings at the Park Slope performance space Barbés on the first Monday of every month, is an event fueled by a passion for film. Curated by filmmaker Joe Pacheco, it provides indie directors a showcase for their movies and Brooklynites an opportunity to see great work that they otherwise might not be aware of.  Pacheco founded the series in late 2005 after taking his own film As Smart As They Are: The Author Project out on the festival circuit. “I was talking with Olivier Conan, one of the owners of Barbés, about how many great films I've been seeing, and he suggested that I start showing them there,” Pacheco told ShortEnd Magazine. “He had been doing a regular screening series called ‘Traveling Cinema’ which screened classic films on a 16mm projector from prints that he would take out from the library, so we thought that the newer independent films that I wanted to show would be a great complement.” Pacheco has screened the work of acclaimed local filmmakers such as Michael Tully, David Redmon, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story’s Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, while also showing movies by more high-profile directors like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Jonze due to his ties to McSweeney’s Wholphin DVD magazine. Through IndiePix, Pacheco also released the Brooklyn Independent Vol. 1 DVD, which collects together some of the best short films he has screened.

Slide 3: indieScreen

Brooklyn’s über-hip Williamsburg neighborhood lost its only movie theater when the much-loved old-time movie palace Commodore closed in 2002, however the area got a cinematic shot in the arm in the summer of 2010 with the arrival of indieScreen. “Ever since I moved to Williamsburg, I’ve only seen theaters closing,” Brooklyn International Film Festival  boss Marco Ursino told The Brooklyn Paper. “The last time we screened a film in Williamsburg was in the Commodore Theater, but that was torn down.” However, in June 2010 Ursino brought the festival to indieScreen, a new venue on Kent Avenue next to the old Domino Sugar Factory that he himself owns along with restaurateur Anna Pozzi-Popermhem, the culinary mind behind the Brooklyn eateries Planet Thailand and Thai Café. The venue is intimate – the theater has 93 seats, and the screen is 17 foot by 8 foot – however, it’s not just a movie theater as the restaurant and bar, under Pozzi-Popermhem’s stewardship, offers delicious affordable food from around the world. The films being screened – quality indie and world cinema titles – are tailored to local tastes, while special events (such as HD broadcasts of operas) bring in a broader demographic.

Slide 4: reRun Gastropub Theater

Summer 2010 seems to have been the time to start your own eatery-cum-movie theater, as this was when not only indieScreen but also the reRun Gastropub Theater opened their doors. The venue, located in DUMBO (that’s Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, in case you were wondering…), is a revamped version of the reBar drinking hole owned and run by Jason Stevens. It has a very distinctive, quirky look (it’s made almost entirely of recycled materials), and screens week-long runs of homegrown indie movies which have gathered buzz on the film festival circuit but not yet made it to a theater near you. (The venue’s curator, Village Voice film critic Aaron Hillis, programs neglected new films such as Frank V. Ross’ Audrey The Trainwreck, plus ultra-rare cult titles like Trent Harris’ The Beaver Trilogy, which stars a young Sean Penn in drag.)  “The cinephiles will come out to see the things they can’t see anywhere else,” Stevens told the New York Times, “but it’s definitely a date-night thing.” The space, in which the bar is almost within arm’s reach of the aisle seats, was conceived as being an indoor drive-in theater, while the food on offer – gourmet riffs on popcorn, hot dogs, and pretzels, with ice cream sandwiches for dessert – reinforce the old-fashioned vibe. 

Slide 5: Movies with a View

New Yorkers do pretty well when it comes to free outdoor movie screenings. In Manhattan, you can lounge on the grass of Bryant Park next to the New York Public Library’s majestic Schwartzman Building, while in Brooklyn you get an even more cinematic setting in which to watch a film. In 2000, the brilliant idea was conceived to show movies in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the East River and the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan as a backdrop. Now in its eleventh year, Movies with a View is continuing to grow in popularity, and now has relocated (still within Brooklyn Bridge Park) to the newly opened Pier 1. The movies screened by Movies with a View are chosen by an all-volunteer committee, so it’s not surprising that the movies are fan favorites, a mixture of New York classics (such as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall), cult hits (the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, John Landis’ The Blues Brothers),  and a fair number of family-friendly thrown in for good measure also. Writing about the experience of watching Annie Hall at the new Pier 1 location, blogger Grace Aldridge wrote, “The views of the bridge and skyline are amazing and totally worth the trip if you’re coming from other boroughs. … We were surprised by how quiet everyone was watching the movie – a welcome change from other outdoor film experiences involving screaming children.”

Slide 6: Summer Screen

While Movies with a View has set the standard for free outdoor film series in Brooklyn, Summer Screen (started in 2006) has also established itself as a highly popular event over the past few years. Organized by The L Magazine (a free, hip NYC listings guide), Summer Screen – just like Movies with a View – has had a recent change of venue. It first set up home in the defunct McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg, but with the outdoor events venue now being returned to its initial incarnation as a public baths, Summer Screen moved across the road to the grassy expanse of the McCarren Park ballfields. While Movies with a View caters to a diverse audience, Summer Screen is aimed at a younger audience, as evidenced not only by the programming choices (their definition of “classic movies” is 80s nostalgia and 90s cult films) but also the liquor license (Brooklyn beers on tap!) and live bands playing before certain movies. One can get a sense of the quintessential Summer Screen experience from the call to action on the series’ website (which refers to Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break): “Bring a blanket, drink beer, eat tacos and quote "Vaya con dios" with 3,000 other Patrick Swayze fans.”

Slide 7: Rooftop Films

Rooftop Films, one of the great Brooklyn film community feel good stories, actually began in Manhattan in 1997, when founder and artistic director Mark Elijah Rosenberg screened movies on the roof of his East Village tenement. Rosenberg was evicted when his landlord found out, and the event thus moved to Williamsburg. Initially, Rosenberg organized a single night of short films every summer, but in 2002 Dan Nuxoll became program director at Rooftop and he and Rosenberg began a major expansion of the organization. Today, the Rooftop Film Series programs numerous events every summer across venues not only in Brooklyn (where its regular haunts are Old American Can Factory in Gowanus and Brooklyn Technical College in Fort Greene) but also a variety of other places around the city. The events offer a live band and new independent filmmaking (promising to “bring underground movies outdoors”), and recently some of the movies screened (including Benh Zeitlin’s Glory at Sea and PJ Raval’s Trinidad) have received assistance from the Rooftop Filmmakers' Fund. Rooftop now is not just an event, but a broader film organization who declare themselves “a community… a collective collaboration between filmmakers and festivals, between audience members and artists, between venues and neighborhoods,” whose goal is “to nurture a vibrant independent filmmaking community not only by exhibiting the work of low-budget filmmakers but also by providing essential support systems for those who otherwise have none.”

Slide 8: BAMCinematek @ BAM

Despite its name, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (or BAM, as it’s generally referred to) is far from just about the music. Located in the Fort Greene neighborhood, BAM – which is the oldest continuously operating performing arts center in the country – is a general performance space which also programs dance, theatre, art and literature events, and since the late 1990s has screened movies in the BAM Rose Cinemas. BAM shows a selection of new releases from world and independent cinema, but is more notable for the repertory programming of its BAMcinématek, which has been run by Florence Almozini since its opening in 1999. The range of films screened at BAMcinématek is impressively diverse, while Almozini creates series with intriguing, leftfield angles, such as 2009’s “The Late Film,” which looked at movies made by directors in the latter stages of their careers. “Because we concentrate mostly on vertical programming and have several different series going on each day of the week, our audience can come every night and see something completely different, from hip contemporary Korean films to silent classics,” Almozini explained in an interview with Gothamist. In 2009, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of BAM Rose Cinemas, the venue held the first ever BAMcinemaFEST, which showcases some of the best titles on the current film festival circuit.

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