An open letter to Cinefest: Start screening indie films

The sign at Cinefest. Georgia State’s campus theatre has lacked in Independent screenings. Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal
The sign at Cinefest. Georgia State’s campus theatre has lacked in Independent screenings. Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal
Georgia State’s campus theatre has lacked independent screenings.
Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal

I first learned of Cinefest in January 2016 when I transferred to Georgia State. I was googling theaters where I could see Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” in 75mm, and Cinefest came up as an option with a compatible projector. I looked at old facebook and twitter posts, finding memories of past screenings I would have happily lapped up: Dario Argento’s “Demons,” “Phantasm” in 35mm, the beautiful “Belladonna of Sadness.” My excitement was through the roof. A theater on campus that shows interesting movies! For free!

Imagine my disappointment when I waltzed up to Cinefest for the first time to see a sign announcing that week’s screening: “Spectre.”

I had already seen “Spectre” and hated it. Not off to a good start. And some poking and prodding revealed the next several weeks were all scheduled with more uninteresting blockbusters, ones I had already seen or didn’t care about.

Because I’m obnoxious, I immediately marched up to the Spotlight office and demanded to know what the heck was going on with the scheduling. They had zoned out their film projector, a Spotlight secretary said. They switched to big-movie programming because of low turnout, she said. Apparently, they used to have a deal with Criterion but they didn’t work with them much anymore.

As a film student and movie lover, I gotta say: Bad show, Cinefest. Bad show.

It’s a new semester, dear Cinefest, and here’s my plea to you: go back down an indie route. And I don’t mean a “The Danish Girl” “indie” route, I mean real independent cinema that’s needs our support and offers valuable learning opportunities to Georgia State’s many film students. You’ve done it before, in spurts and around Oscars-time, but it’s time to get consistent! Let’s freshen up Georgia State’s film culture using the greatest resource we can: our theater.

As Atlanta’s film industry grows in notoriety, it’s about time to put Georgia State on the map as a great film school. It’s time to use our resources to expand our film students’ educations. Instead of feeding them Hollywood blockbuster fodder, which they can get anywhere, and let’s screen some low-budget gems.

Indie films have a lot to offer. Different styles of filmmaking, different stories and different perspectives. Heck, Georgia State is one of the most diverse universities in this country, so get some indies just to get some variety on the screen! Hollywood’s not helping out in that regard, so we’ve got to make an effort. When marketed correctly, foreign language films and indies with diverse casts will probably increase your audience and gift our diverse population with some much needed screen time.

On top of that, indie films are often awesome. I don’t mean in a “great cinema” way— as in all things, not all indie movies are good movies, just as not all Hollywood movies are bad movies. I mean there’s some really funky stuff going on in art houses that’s refreshingly new and super entertaining. Into horror? How about the terrifyingly surreal “Antibirth,” that’s getting distribution soon and is way cooler and more terrifying than “The Purge” ever could be. Like a good family drama? “Krisha” is full of emotion, sweaty men and crazy swirly cameras.

I’m not asking you to commit to exclusively screening indie movies. I get it, you’re trying to draw crowds, you’ve gotta play some movies for the average non-film-student student who just wants to watch “Ride Along 2” for free. But an indie a month, even, and a handful of classic movies screenings would be doing the good work of the sweet Film Lord, helping us lowly filmmakers absorb some fresh inspiration. That way we won’t have to take the bus for nearly an hour to get to Landmark Midtown, ride MARTA and then walk for 25 minutes or shell out handfuls of cash Ubering. It’s expensive to Uber that far at prime movie-watching times!

I’m also sure there are dedicated film students out there who would love to work for free on a Friday night to set up a screening (I’m one of them). We’d take on the indies and set up a classic oldie screening every once in awhile, like the “E.T.” and “Demons” events you’ve held in the past, before this recent drought. And before you say, “not worth it! No one would come!” Think about the people who would come– devoted fans, curious passersby, film students trying to learn everything they can from their predecessors. A small, loving crowd has just as much value as a big, half-baked one.

We deserve great movies, and you’re the best one to provide that, Cinefest! Your Spotlight webpage says you screen “a wide variety of films for the community including cult classics, foreign films, documentaries, independent films and Atlanta premieres.” Check your schedule again– it sure doesn’t look like you’re living up to that standard. Why not go back to this mantra? Who cares that your average Bio has never have heard of what you’re playing, who cares if the indies may get a smaller turnout than “Divergent.” You’d be providing a service, offering Georgia State something fresh and unexpected, expanding our horizons.

You can start by putting out a call for a volunteer-run throwback night, getting Criterion back and playing some movies that enrich people’s artistic selves, as well as the “Hunger Games” and the Melissa McCarthy slapsticks. It’s not oil and water here; we can mix our indie and our big budget. It’s all flowing around in the same pool, so why restrict us to one stream? Open the floodgates! Georgia State will be the better for it.

Correction: Spotlight secretary’s mention of Criterion was not referring to the Criterion Collection, but another Criterion distributing company. 

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