Pacific Cinematheque has been celebrating cinema history and showcasing great films and filmmakers for the past 40 years. For a small non-profit arts organization, this milestone is remarkable in light of other arts organizations, many with much higher profiles, shuttering its doors. As the cinemas executive and artistic director, Jim Sinclair has been at the helm of one of Canadas oldest and most active film institutes for more than 25 years, curating its program of year-round film exhibitions, which offers more than 500 screenings annually. In a new era of digital formats and diminishing numbers at movie houses, Sinclair and his little-arts-organization-that-could prepares for its next four decades.
Q: How is Pacific Cinematheque different from other movie theatres?
Yes, The Cinematheque runs a cinema its our most prominent public activity! But the Cinematheque is a completely different animal. Were a non-profit and a charity, the work we do is in the realm of arts, culture, and education, and not part of the marketplace; our economic model, the way we curate films, the way we acquire films, the kind of community collaborations and partnerships we rely on pretty much our whole way of doing (cultural) business is completely different. And for the most part, things havent really changed significantly for us. Things remain very steady.
Q: Celebrating four decades is no small feat. Whats the secret to your success?
Of course, things actually do change all the time (technologies, levels of government support for the arts, audience tastes, the social landscape of the city) and youve got to be nimble to keep an arts organization steady and sustainable and moving ever onwards and upwards.
Q: Attendance at movie houses is said to be on the decline. Is it curtains for traditional cinema?
Ive always maintained that anything that enhances film and film culture in Vancouver ultimately benefits Cinematheque. So losing movie theatres and movie screens, and giving moviegoers far fewer choices, is definitely not a great thing for our organization or for me personally as a film lover. But I cant really speak with any authority about the business of commercial movie houses or the problems theyre facing.
Q: Biggest challenge?
Weve outgrown our space! Landing a permanent home in 1986 (through the City of Vancouvers Cultural Amenity Bonus program) allowed us to focus on our mandate to grow and prosper and build great public programs and services. Now were bursting at the seams. Our facility, at 1131 Howe, is very centrally located, which is great, and the cinema auditorium itself suits our purposes. But we need more space to properly house our Film Reference Library and West Coast Film Archives, both of which are important collections, and all the many programs and services our Education Department offers, to say nothing of having sufficient office space for an expanded staff or a lobby that can actually host a decent-sized reception.
Q: What would this new space look like?
Weve been dreaming of a Shiny New Cinematheque upon a Hill (Im afraid Im paraphrasing here the noted film star Ronald Reagan, who had some other big-deal job way back in the 1980s when I first started at Pacific Cinematheque). But after several unsuccessful efforts at developing a new space, weve now very much focused on transforming our current site: were convinced that the most realistic, economical, environmentally appropriate, and sellable plan for us is a Shiny Recycled Cinematheque right where we are. In others words, renovating, expanding, and upgrading creating a renewed space that will meet our needs for the next 40 years or so. Weve already embarked on a major feasibility study to determine what is and what isnt possible on our current turf. Stay tuned.
Q: Biggest success?
I think achieving 40 years is a pretty amazing milestone in the life of a cultural organization. Weve work really hard to build a stable, sustainable, well-managed organization that not only offers excellent programs and services but also balances its books, and weve accomplished this despite some pretty stormy economic times that have proved very difficult for other many other arts organizations.
Q: What has been the most significant change in the 40 years of the organization?
Plus Ã§a change, plus cest la mÃªme chose. (At a Cinematheque screening, wed have subtitles to translate that.) But the acquisition of a permanent home for The Cinematheque in 1986 (just prior to my tenure) was a major step for the organization. And the launch, in 1995, of a full-fledged Education Department devoted to media education and outreach work, locally and across the province, was a very significant expansion of our activities. Weve also developed, over the last two decades, a very strong year-round program of public films screenings that I believe compares, in quality and scope, to anything being offered by any other leading film institute in any other major city of the world.
Cinema and moving-images remain hugely important, hugely influential forms of artistic and cultural expression. They also have a great history and tradition that now stretches back more than a century. So perhaps more than ever, in a world bombarded with moving images and media, The Cinematheque is relevant and necessary. Amidst the overwhelming clamour, we seek out and spotlight what is extraordinary and exciting in contemporary cinema from Canada and around the world, and from filmmakers and media artists ignored by the multiplexes. And, through our youth education programs, were providing context and understanding, stimulating critical thinking, about the powerful role of media and moving images in our lives.
Q: How has the digital era changed the landscape for movies and moviegoers?
Colossus Digital has arrived and conquered and there is no going back. This is, in some ways, a totally radical change: 35mm film, photochemical emulsion on celluloid, has been the industry standard (and the aesthetic standard) for the projection of movies, of feature films, since the late 19th century. And now, very suddenly, its not! Go see a new movie at any commercial movie theatre today and what youre now seeing, almost certainly, is not film. Its zeros and ones on a portable hard-drive presented through a system called DCP (Digital Cinema Package).
Q: Can moviegoers tell the difference?
This is really just about format, and most moviegoers arent really concerned about that stuff or have never given it a thought. Even amongst those who really care about these things, and who worry about the artistic and aesthetic implications (and Im one of them), there are many who admit that they cant any longer tell the difference between film and digital projection.
There are, undeniably, some significant economic and environmental advantages to digital; there may be significant risks as well, in terms of film preservation and our future access to older films (technologies become obsolete so quickly try accessing anything youve stored on an old floppy disc). At The Cinematheque, were still pretty old school in our belief that film, properly projected from an excellent 35mm print, has a richness, texture, and warmth that sets it apart from a digital presentation. It may be that 35mm projection becomes a niche market, a niche experience, for the connoisseurs, much like vinyl relative to CDs or MP3s.
Q: What has this digital era meant for your organization?
The 35mm format has remained the standard way we project most feature films. Whats surprised me about the mass conversion to digital is how quickly it has begun to affect our particular sector: restorations and rereleases of classic films, many of the speciality or boutique releases that are The Cinematheques bread-and-butter, are only available on DCP. So we need to add DCP to our arsenal much sooner than I would have predicated. And it isnt cheap! Anyone will $50,000 to $100,000 to donate to the cause, please give me a call! (We can issue a charitable tax receipt.)
Q: How will people be viewing films five, ten, twenty years from now?
Maybe via neural implants creating a completely immersive three-dimensional, multisensory experience (but rendering us brainwashed automatons in thrall to the consumerist-corporatist dictates of the dastardly Entertainment-Industrial Complex). Or maybe through magnifying glasses on their itty-bitty smart phone screens. Hopefully also on the beautiful large screen of The Cinematheque, that venerable and essential Vancouver cultural institution!
Q: Best life lesson youve learned?
The importance of emotional intelligence! Being right or smart or, to be more accurate, thinking youre right or smart dont amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world (to quote Bogart in Casablanca) if you cant communicate effectively or respectfully, or work constructively, with others.
Q: One thing you could change about the world?
The world is a wonderful and a terrible place. It could always do with more wonderful and with less terrible. Maybe this is corny, but its my conviction that this is exactly what arts and culture are for: making the world more wonderful and more civil and less terrible.
Q: One thing you cant live without?
The last 65 years of pop music.
Q: Last $20 bucks to your name, how would you spend it?
Ive always been pretty frugal, so Id probably eke out every last penny on absolute essentials until I had another last $20 bucks to my name. We manage The Cinematheque in the same Ã¼ber-careful way, which is why were stable and sustainable and healthy at 40.
Q: Last book read?
Drown, the first collection of stories (published in 1996) by the Dominican-American writer Junot DÃaz, whose 2008 novel The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao was such a marvel.
Q: All-time favorite movie?
If I had to choose one, it would be Citizen Kane. It really opens my pod bay doors.
© Copyright 2013