Little Cinema: An Awesome New Immersive Film Experience at House of Yes

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all photos by Mark Salner

New York is a funny place. People come to pursue ambitions and creative projects, and the result is a big community of driven individuals in a relatively small place. But that community is not always a real community; even surrounded by so many like-minded people, we are regularly getting by alone.

It was this sentiment that jumpstarted a new live-performance film series called Little Cinema, inside Bushwick’s House of Yes.

“I was getting lonely, ha, and I had this idea of collaborating with performers, but I didn’t know how to,” said Little Cinema Creative Director Jay Rinsky, also an audio-visual DJ. Last night, during Little Cinema’s screening of Iñarritu’s Birdman (buffed up by live musical and acting performance), I caught Rinsky and his team Lindsey Royce and Katie Morabito to talk about the project. “So I pitched this idea to Ilan Telmont (one of the owners of House of Yes) at Burning Man to do movie screenings once a week, and before I knew it there was a 22-foot screen installed,” Rinsky said.

As he thought more about how he’d like to pull it off, boom: David Bowie died.

“That same day we chose Labyrinth, and Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke (House of Yes co-owner) and I sent out messages that we would be doing an immersive screening of [the movie],” Rinsky said, a little breathless as he talked; it was mid-performance (“intermission”) of the Birdman screening, and he was about to return to DJ act two. To their surprise, the Labyrinth screening sold out in 40 minutes–only problem was, they hadn’t yet found the musicians and artists they needed to make it the “immersive” show they had advertised. Within 18 hours, on their phones, the group wrangled more than 30 performers. The screening was followed by a 500-person impromptu DJ dance party that raged until 4am. “Everyone got really inspired and it was like, ok, what will we do next?” Rinsky recalled.

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The answer became Little Cinema’s first series, a month of Bowie. The film Prestige followed with a performance by magician Adam Cordone. (“Honestly, I don’t think people grasped the concept of film and a magic show, so I think some came for magic and some came for Bowie,” said Rinsky.) The third screening was Basquiat, in which Bowie plays Andy Warhol. Musician Brian Kelly, whose song “She is Dancing” appears on the film’s original soundtrack, performed that night. “Brian Kelly brought a completely different crowd of people,” said Rinsky. And it’s that diversity that has made it fun; each Little Cinema collaboration is wildly different–drawing performance artists, DJs, magicians, ad-hoc bands, more–and each one brings a niche audience that corresponds to that night’s performers.

After the Labyrinth screening, Rinsky gathered the rest of Little Cinema’s team, Lindsey Royce, who handles brand strategy and production (her background is business development in fashion and entertainment) and Katie Morabito, who heads up curation and operations; professionally she manages several artists studios. All three were brought together through House of Yes, and a passion for creating a community of creative individuals.

Last night, House of Yes’s venue was staged in dinner-theater-style: two-tops and chairs filled the space and followed Nitehawk’s formula of show-time food and drink (Which was encouraged, said Royce, by House of Yes’s Justin Ahyion. I opted for falafel and wine).

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But how was the movie itself made immersive? Pre-screening, a performance artist whose entire body was painted like a bird, stood on stage, naked but for the paint, arms spanned like wings, predatorily staring at the crowd; a short, stop-motion film made of 3D printed babies, who sometimes floated in space, was also screened and accompanied by live music; a seven-person band, King Koala, created that night (and including Rinsky as DJ), performed looped remixes at emotional apexes of Birdman: when Emma Stone and Edward Norton made out, and when Stone and Michael Keaton argued. There were also actors; a standout moment came when Michael Keaton gets locked out of his theater. A Little Cinema actor replicated this moment, weaving in and out of dinner tables in his tighty-whities.

Admittedly, and historically, I am not a devotee of immersive performance, but it was hard not to get into these moments last night. Scenes in the movie that would have passed without much extra thought were enriched by them, extended, and given additional meaning through the live art–and it didn’t feel overwrought. Birdman, yes, is good on its own, but the creative additions last night proved that film leaves room for, and even invites, live collaboration.

Little Cinema says most screenings come together in unbelievably short periods of time—and that is due to the fact that they can come together quickly. Rinsky, Royce, and Morabito now have a place, House of Yes, where they can gather all their creative friends and acquaintances (and anybody should sign up! they say), who were previously only loosely bound. All four House of Yes owners, says Rinsky, have embraced the series, and encourage them to run with whatever weird, immersive screen collaborations that they can come up with.

As intermission came to a close, Rinksy ran back inside to DJ part two. The crowd re-entered, unsure of what they might witness next (that turned out to be, in part, the dude weaving in and out of tables in his underwear).

“We’re just flying,” said Morabito, as Rinsky walked inside. “Going straight through it.”

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Little Cinema at House of Yes; 2 Wyckoff Avenue, Bushwick, every Tuesday (Nota bene, next Tuesday is off!). The next screening will be Donnie Darko, followed by a month of films from around the world, and lots and lots of creative collaborations.


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