“Idealism and business rarely mix,” says Chester Kent, a lead character in Guy Maddin’s film, The Saddest Music in the World.
The Picture Show—a new experimental microcinema in Greenpoint—screened Maddin’s film (which is about finding the saddest music in the world during Depression era Winnipeg) on their opening night in early February. For Katya Yakubov and Daniel Hess, co-founders of the theater, idealism and business have found a rare place to converge… Except they haven’t exactly figured out the business part yet.
“With these self-made passion projects, what’s great is because you’re not thinking so much about how to fund everything, you’re just going,” Yakubov said. “Once you start something, it’s really just about creating a little space. Just a little space where something can happen.”
In particular, they wanted to create a collaborative space in which filmmakers and curators could come together, and where feature-length cinema and experimental film could meet. Yakubov and Hess seem to embody the spirit of collaboration even in their conversation. While some couples finish each other’s sentences, Yakubov and Hess interrupt and challenge each other throughout instead.
“We don’t just want to show experimental short films. We want to show feature-length, visionary auteur cinema. Because cinema and experimental film overlap. And they don’t always overlap in the way that venues are set up,” Yakubov said.
A single room affords this overlap. The cinema, which they’ve outfitted with a simple screen and projector, seats some forty people. Yakubov and Hess live on the other side of a retrofitted wall in an even smaller space. They join the ranks of just a handful of other such experimental film spaces in Brooklyn—among them, MONO NO AWARE, Spectacle, Light Industry, Union Docs, and Microscope Gallery.
“It’s not just that we’re obsessed about bringing these two types of film genres together or adding to that kind of culture. It’s that we’re also super excited to make it a community space,” Hess said.
That community has already begun to coalesce. With the exception of some occasional flyering, Hess and Yakubov’s primary method of promotion happens on Frameworks, an e-mail list that serves the experimental film community globally. This is where they have been broadcasting their open calls for film submissions.
“Literally every week it feels like it’s growing exponentially in terms of possibilities,” Yakubov said.
The Haverhill Experimental Film Festival asked them to host their traveling program in June. And next month, they’ve got a guy coming in to perform a piece with a slide projector and narration—something Yakubov said she would have never thought to do.
Since they opened, they have been screening films once a week on Fridays. Five dollars gets you entry as well as free “beverages”—an affordable Friday-night out but not the most sustainable business model.
Hess said, “We made like $200 on Friday, $50 of which I spent on alcohol beforehand.”
They pay $1,500 monthly for their space, in which they live and work. Hess and Yakubov have also been using their space as a personal studio for their film projects. But both are still working day jobs. And the limited cash flow means they can’t afford the licensing fees attached to some films.
“It’s not possible for us to pay for any films. We’re just an open venue right now. That’s all we have to offer,” Yakubov said.
Hess and Yakubov have started to think about grant proposals, and their goal is to eventually become self-sustainable. But for the moment, they are content to just let things happen.
“These kinds of spaces, without funding or working models set in place, have a kind of volatile energy that allows for things to transpire that may not have been in a larger, more academic, or regulated institution,” Yakubov said. “And we need both ends of this spectrum. Both are good.”