Microcinema Summit : Commonalities & Questions


New York City has a diverse history of alternative screening spaces, yet many agree it’s currently undergoing a watershed moment with new crops of intimately-sized venues redefining the way audiences encounter work, interact with each other, and gain exposure to new cinematic forms. On Thursday, January 31st, UnionDocs was honored to be both host and participant for a panel organized by the New York Film / Video Council that brought together five individuals representing alternative screening venues in NYC. It was a packed house and a stimulating discussion that addressed the ideals these spaces represent as well as the practicalities of their different operations. Below are just a few fragmentary quotes to provide a sense of the conversation.

Participants Order
Light Industry – Thomas Beard, Co-Founder and Director
Maysles Cinema – Jessica Green, Cinema Director
Microscope Gallery – Elle Burchill, Curator
Spectacle – Steve Macfarlane, Head Programmer/Volunteer
UnionDocs – Christopher Allen, Founder/Artistic Director

EB: There’s this distinction between the art world and the film world that we are not sure is valid.

JG: How do you create art for a multicultural audience?

CA: Purchase Purchase  When we’re thinking about events, we’re really thinking a lot about the conversation that’s going to happen afterwards, at least as much as we’re thinking about what’s going to be on the screen or what’s being presented.

TB: One of the nice things of being a small space is that there is a certain agility that comes with it.

SM: If a movie is good and it’s going to show once, someone else should be down to let [another venue] show it, you know, three months later.

TB: Growth is a kind of presupposed ideal for small non-profit arts organizations… There’s this idea that to get bigger and bigger is somehow tantamount to success…  I guess I just very much disagree with that sentiment, because the question in New York is not of quantity.

JG: It is challenging, but that’s what’s interesting about the micro. Because it is actually a bit of a new model, so figuring out how to make it work, is kind of the interesting part.

TB: The fact that artists are paid across the board and that its actually a priority for these organizations… I think it is significant that you could maybe make more showing your work at Spectacle, Microscope or Light Industry or UnionDocs than you could showing it at one of the major museums in New York, which might offer you nothing.


JG: I just wanna say, shout out the the Internet! I don’t think there’s any way that we could do this without the Internet.

CA: Q&A is really an inappropriate term. They really are more discussions and if we’re lucky they’re driven more by ideas, and hopefully there’s a challenge there, hopefully there’s a place for debate.

Cheap SM: I think a huge draw for us is that feeling of discovering something that’s hidden or secret or something like that…but resisting traditional advertising is not a bad way to boost the reputation in the long run.

EB: Cheap We never program based on attendance, no matter how tempting it is sometimes.

JG: There’s still this concept out there, that only white people watch documentaries, unfortunately, which is not the case. But it is changing.

TB: For all of these spaces, I definitely think that audience extends beyond the people that are in the room.

SM: I also write movie reviews sometimes and I just have an infinitely easier time figuring out what I want to say and how to watch the movie [at Spectacle], than when it is a press screening and I only get to see it once.


CA: One of the things that I think is interesting is how few places there are for people to go where their voices can be heard, where they can actually speak in public. What does it mean to speak in public and engage in a dialog that you are accountable for in such an immediate way? And that is a thing that I think you get in spaces like these.

TB: Light Industry is a cinema that is reduced to it’s most essential variables, a grid of folding chairs,  a white surface, a projector, some people, you know, a plug. I think in that there is a position -it’s like a testament to the fact that this cinema can happen anywhere, that it can materialize with very few resources.

Order JG: Order  I actually think that because so much media and content is available on all your screens… that we’re actually benefiting in some weird way from the lack of ability to kind of communally experience these things. I think people are really hungry for that.

CA: I think there are interesting ways that smaller and larger spaces could be working more together towards community engagement.