Inside of a simple wooden box, elevated about five feet off the ground, sits a 16mm Elmo film projector. The sound of its spinning reels is muffled by foam egg crates, and its lens is aimed at a far wall. This is the beating heart of Light Industry, an experimental, repertory cinema that’s celebrating five years in Greenpoint.
It would be an understatement to say Thomas Beard and Ed Halter run Light Industry– they are Light Industry. When the two began working together in 2008, they never had a place very long to show films and for years nomadically moved their reels “from one space in Sunset Park to another.” For the past five years, however, they’ve shared a common space (their viewing room) with Triple Canopy. A few months ago, the Brooklyn-based arts magazine moved out and Light Industry took over the room.
“Light Industry’s model is to be lightweight,” says Beard. “It has always been a cinema reduced to its most essential variables.” The carpeted room is on the small size for a theater; simple black folding chairs accomodate about 100 audience members. A few acoustic panels hang on the bare white walls. A signed poster by artist Paul Chan, listed as one of the board of directors, reads: “no racists, no fascists, no taxes funding racists or fascists.”
The room’s simplicity makes for almost endless flexibility. At a typical event, an artist is carefully chosen to perform or to talk about a film that’s screened in 16mm, 8mm, or digital– one film was even projected onto a large weather balloon. The selections are obscure, or perhaps just niche. They come from the world of classic avant-garde, repertory cinema, pieces that empower rather than distract; the kind of cinema that might teach you how to be an audience. Four-hour films can be tough to sit through– which can be a good thing. “We’re a destination; people won’t just casually come by,” Ed says. “The audience is almost always pre-filtered before they get here.”“They’re always down,” Thomas adds.
The programming is planned and researched entirely by Ed and Thomas over the course of days or even years, and can change with current circumstances. “After the election we instantly changed the program to reflect what was on people’s minds,” Ed says, “We saw an uptick in turnout after the election and many new faces. In this political climate the movies are something people really need.”
Some of these films included Robert Kramer’s 1970 film Ice, which imagines a future in which New York City is ruled by a fascist state, and follows the lives of the resisters. Or The Spanish Earth by Joris Ivens, which documents the front lines of the Spanish Civil War.
In addition to their weekly film showings, Light Industry has broken into publishing, and is teaming up with Anthology Film Archives to reprint Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision, the celebrated non-narrative filmmaker’s “major theoretical statement.”
The book was originally published in 1963 and again in 1976, but Light Industry’s edition, designed by Joseph Logan will be the first affordable one in many years. Original design elements by George Maciunas will be retained from the first edition, and extensive end notes will be added by P. Adams Sitney, the original editor of Brakhage’s manuscript.
“It’s the kind of scholarly approach that is usually reserved for someone like Shakespeare,” Ed says proudly.
“Or Finnegan’s Wake,” Thomas adds.
New York is notoriously experiencing a cinema renaissance; this month, New York’s first multi-screen cinema, the Quad, reopens in the Village with a new design and new management, and a next-door wine bar. But Ed and Thomas don’t think flashy new theaters like Alamo, Syndicate, and Nitehawk Park Slope are a bad thing. “Every one of these cinemas becomes a gateway drug to other cinemas,” says Ed. “It’s really an incredible time to go see the movies in New York.”
Light Industry’s next screening, on April 11, will be of Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield’s Craig Owens: An Interview, about the art critic. You can subscribe to their mailing list here.