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ArtsEmerson fare is for cinephiles, too

By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / July 3, 2011

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As its name indicates, ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage has emphasized theatrical performance. Yet its first season has included an extensive movie element, too, in Emerson’s 170-seat Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Center.

Rebecca Meyers, director of film programs, spoke recently with the Globe about ArtsEmerson’s screen component.

Q. How different were things from what you expected?

A. One of the starkest surprises as a programmer was trying to show films on 35mm. I’d had a lot of experience booking prints at the Harvard Film Archive, then been away from that for a year and half. I was startled by how much things have changed with the rise of digital. So it’s been exciting to connect with archives and studios wanting to continue that celluloid tradition - but also frustrating at times trying to secure prints. People do appreciate getting to see them, and that’s been very rewarding.

Q. How has turnout been?

A. The goal is for people who live in the area and want to go to a movie to think, Oh, we can go to the Boston Common - or we can go to ArtsEmerson. That might be unrealistic for now, but the audience is growing. The two biggest events were the Andy Warhol program and F. Murray Abraham, who was in town, coming to introduce “Amadeus.’’ Otherwise, it’s classical Hollywood - “Psycho,’’ “Magnificent Ambersons’’ - that tends to bring the bigger crowds.

Q. How would you describe the makeup of your audience?

A. It’s too early to have a sense if there is a common thread. I have been noticing more young people. The student population is part of our audience. And not just Emerson: We’ve had students come in from Brandeis, even schools in the Pioneer Valley. But there are also the sorts of cinephiles I’d see at the MFA and HFA.

Q. Have you done any coordinating with the MFA and HFA?

A. Something for us to figure out is how much our audiences differ, and how much does it matter if we do similar things? So, yes, we do some coordinating. When Harvard did a big [Claude] Chabrol retrospective earlier this spring, we showed some of his films, too, and we helped each other with cross-promotion. It’s been more cross-promoting, really, rather than shared programming.

Q. In the back of your mind, do you have an ideal programming mix?

A. I do. One of the things that’s really important is to show a range. It’s important for the future of film programming to show a mix and open people’s minds. Repertory is important. Contemporary is important, such as independent foreign films that have limited distribution. Also documentary films. Screen time for experimental and avant-garde films. We also want to support and celebrate the work of the Emerson community. I try to hit all those different areas. And we try to supplement some of the ArtsEmerson stage programs, as with “Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ being screened with “Susurrus’’ going on, or showing several Hemingway adaptations in conjunction with the stage version of “The Sun Also Rises.’’

Q. Did you have a favorite program or programs?

A. One of the things that was a lot of fun was this ongoing presentation of [Jean-Luc Godard’s] “Historie(s) du Cinema.’’ We’d show a feature, then some people would stay through the whole thing, and some people leave. I was really excited to show it. It’s only been shown theatrically once here [in the United States], in LA. So that was great. Doing the Terrence Malick festival the weekend when, as it turned out, he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, that was exciting. The other really great night was the Warhol program. We sold out the show. I’m hoping we can do more of that, music-film programs.

Q. Does the ubiquity of DVDs and downloading and such make big-screen repertory more or less important?

A. It makes it more important. Watching something at home isn’t the same. It’s not just the size. Movies are a communal experience. That’s something really nice about our space. The theater is such a beautiful building. Hey, it’s a night out. That’s special, and it will continue to be special.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

The Paramount Theater on Washington Street in BostonA look back at ArtsEmerson’s first season
ArtsEmerson's executive director Robert Orchard saw the initiative's first season bring shows to the newly renovated Paramount Center (left) and the Cutler Majestic Theatre.