New Venue, same labor of love for Cinema East
How many cinematic labors of love are lucky enough to make the festival acceptance grade, be it at Sundance, Fantastic Fest, or South by Southwest, only to screen a handful of times before vanishing into the black hole of post-festival obscurity? There's no accurate count, really, but based on 20-plus years of attending virtually every single film festival Austin itself has to offer, we'd ballpark the number of indie productions that never get theatrical – or even Video on Demand – releases in the hundreds if not thousands. Think of it. All those movies unseen or underseen, like books on shelves sitting unread and unknown. It's enough to make you weep 24 tears per second.
Or, at the very least, to commit every other Sunday evening this summer to Cinema East, Austin's savior of indie films of yesteryear. (And by yesteryear, we mean last year, or, occasionally, a few years back.) The resurrection of the recently produced independent American film is Cinema East's guiding philosophy. As Carlyn Hudson, who co-produces and co-programs the series with partner Maggie Lea, says, "It's not that we don't like older films, it's just that we are committed to showing new independent work, about half of which is coming out of Austin. That's intentional, on our part, and it's a way of supporting the Austin film community. Plus, there's a lot of filmmakers in Austin who are creating great stuff that goes to Sundance and SXSW and huge festivals, but whose films never get seen outside of those venues. Those filmmakers' biggest screening may be 150 people at a sold-out SXSW screening, and that really doesn't do a film justice."
Although a relative newcomer to the exploding Austin film series/festival scene, Cinema East (co-founded in 2010 by then-music promoter Lea, and friend Scott Jawson) consistently packed their venue at the time, the historic French Legation, with an average of 500 to 600 film fans per screening – a remarkable number considering that most of their publicity was via social networking, word of mouth, and DIY spunk. Or maybe not so remarkable: The combination of films outside, under the stars, in a grassy, tranquil spot, with DJs spinning chill, down-tempo beats, food, drink, and an arresting feeling of cinematic sociality does seem to describe that sacred Austin vibe pretty well. There's a Slacker-iness about the series and its communal, neighborhood aesthetic that sets it well apart from all other Austin film series.
"When it started," recalls the willowy, omnipresent Lea, "it really had that feel of, you know, sitting on your back porch and hanging out with your friends. It's meant to be very accessible. The city has changed so much – even since we began three years ago. All that construction and the condos Downtown were just starting up when Scott [Jawson, no longer with Cinema East] and I first came up with the idea of doing this. That film Echotone was shooting and documenting those changes. So that first year [Cinema East] was promoted as being free, accessible, and very DIY. And that attracted a lot of people."
This summer, Cinema East has moved from the French Legation to Yellow Jacket Stadium, the Eastside track/football field owned by Hollywood Henderson, near the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex. "In a way it's like our first year again, because we're trekking into this undiscovered Eastside venue," notes Lea. All proceeds from the series will go to the East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach, Inc. Judging from their packed launch party at Cheer Up Charlie's last week, you're going to want to get to the screenings early. There's only so much room for blankets under the stars, after all, but there's plenty of movies just waiting to be seen.
Cinema East 2012 kicks off Sunday, June 10, with Bob Byington's Somebody Up There Likes Me. See www.cinemaeastaustin.com for full schedule and information.