In the lobby of the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, a set of stairs leads to the hidden headquarters of Cinefamily, the outfit that has programmed and managed the theater for the past three years. Upstairs, two walls are lined with dry-erase boards bearing non sequitur lists, the fruits of brainstorm sessions for future programs: Conspiracy Theory, Kusturica, squirmcore (whatever that is). At a table piled with ashtrays and DVDs sits Hadrian Belove, the former video-store owner who has led the charge to turn this storied, reputedly haunted old theater into the site of some of the most vibrant and unusual repertory and independent-film programming in the country.
"We're not showing anything we don't love," Belove says.
Cinefamily is a difficult beast to define; it is, as Belove describes it, "pathologically idiosyncratic," which is part of what makes it brilliant. A typical conversation in their war room can flow from the eroticism of Frank Capra to " '80s cokey noir" to whether or not "indie film is the new being in a band."
Belove likens Cinefamily's programming process to "making a mixtape for a girl you're trying to impress, in that you want to demonstrate all the possible points of connection, and all the things you thought were awesome in the world."
Belove, 34, previously co-founded Cinefile, the clubhouse-esque video store next door to the Nuart. Dreaming of expansion, he wrote up a business plan to combine a video store with a movie theater, but nothing came of it until the spring of 2007, when Belove kept running into Sammy Harkham, owner of the Family bookstore and a Cinefile customer, at Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse Film Festival.
Belove and Harkham got to talking about how great the festival was — and wouldn't it be greater if there were programming like this in L.A. all the time? Harkham mentioned that he and his brother recently purchased the Silent Movie. Belove launched into a "you know what you should do ..." spiel inspired by his neglected business plan.
"At the end of it ... he kind of said, 'Oh, you should do it.' And I freaked out, and called him for five days straight. I didn't realize he was a hipster Orthodox Jew, and his phone was turned off for Passover." After the holiday, Harkham called back. Belove's programming launched that Halloween.
Belove doesn't drop the H-word pejoratively — in fact, breaking through the cycle of "hipster self-loathing" is key to the "family" part of Cinefamily's mission. " 'Hipster' just means anyone who's interested, who is hip to culture. It should be something of a badge."
The word is too often misconstrued as shorthand for cold elitism — the opposite of what Cinefamily wants to be, Belove says. "We want to be welcoming. We want to be a theater that encompasses a little bit of everybody. Come on in, grandpa, come on in."
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Cinefamily now operates as a nonprofit, partially because it makes it easier to get hold of archival prints. The theater sells memberships, makes use of volunteers, and is contemplating its first fund-raiser. The give-and-take between the theater and the city keeps Belove going.
"I had written this mission statement about L.A.'s need for community meeting places, and how movies are classic communal exercises, like campfires and sporting events," Belove says. Once Cinefamily got off the ground, he says, "I was seeing this abstract thing realized, and it was very moving.
"Los Angeles is an incredibly difficult city, but when you crack the nut, it's one of the greatest cities on the planet. We're just making it a little bit easier to crack that nut."