In the three years that it’s been established in Williamsburg, the Nitehawk Cinema has grown into a neighborhood institution, and not just because you can get beer served to you while you’re watching the latest release. The programmers at Nitehawk, Max Cavanaugh (Cinema Manager/Programmer), John Woods, (Cinema Programming Director), and Caryn Coleman (Senior Film Programmer), have created noteworthy repertory programs and launched interesting independent movies, and generally created the kind of unique, cinema-philic atmosphere that you want in a local picture house. Because the holiday season is a big one for movies, and the programmers (who you might recognize from our list of 100 Most Influential People In Brooklyn Culture) have just come off their second annual shorts festival in November, we chatted with them about what a day in the life of a film programmer is like.
Tell me about yourself and your background. How did you get into film programming?
Cavanaugh: I love that the three of us in the programming department have very different tastes, so when we all agree, we know we’ve got something for everyone. We all have our own interests and series and share in selecting brunch and midnight programs. The process is both intensely collaborative and individual, which is what I think makes our programs so unique. In short, we pack a lot in to our three screens every year.Often some programs are obvious, like when we were showing Inside Llewyn Davis we had a Coen Brothers brunch and midnight series. For the brunch and midnite series we often work in themes. One of my series this year was called A Reasonable Length, which was born from my frustration with how long modern Hollywood films and episodic TV shows have become. In the 1930s and 40s, films were often under 90 minutes and they had great characters, plot, and tension. Not that I don’t love epics–I do–but I wanted to highlight films that were about 90 minutes or less. It was fun to have a theme that was so broad that I could pick films from different genres and decades that all the exemplified my theme.
In programming, I also love to collaborate with special guests and curators. Through the years I have met many filmmakers and kindred lovers of film and I want to give them a venue to showcase their talents and tastes. This is exemplified in our Deuce film series, which features films that premiered on “The Deuce” (the 12 theaters on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in the 1970s and 80s). The series crosses many genres and also places the films in a historical context. The selection process for that series is dictated by what films played on the Deuce in that era, but also by what is available to book and what is available on 35mm. It can be restrictive, but the detective work it takes to track the films down can be a blast.
What are you looking for when you’re selecting a film for a certain program? What are your selection criteria?
Coleman: One consistent is that I want to show films that resonant with an audience. My curatorial background has engrained it within me to always to ask: why now? So for repertory programming, questioning why it’s important to show a film means to look at what’s going on in the world and determine whether a film or series is relevant or if a movie is ready for a revisit. In terms of programming new releases (which for me is mainly artist films, independent features and documentaries), I simply look for something that engages in innovative and fascinating story-telling.
What are three films that you think everyone should see?
Coleman: F for Fake, Medium Cool and for a new release that came in 2014, Art and Craft.
Woods: Force of Evil, Being There, and 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s
Cavanaugh: Raiders of the Lost Ark (because it’s my favorite film), Jaws (because it’s Jaws), and my favorite recent repertory discovery, Robert Wise’s The Set-Up.