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Cinefamily throws 'telethon' to fund digital projector, more

Cinefamily's online telethon, including Robert Downey Jr. opening a time capsule found on site addressed to him, aims to fund theater upgrades.

December 15, 2012|By Mark Olsen
  • Robert Downey Jr. will open a time capsule addressed to him that was found on the premises.
Robert Downey Jr. will open a time capsule addressed to him that was found… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Now 5 years old, the Cinefamily has become a pillar of the alternative film exhibition scene in Los Angeles alongside venues such as the New Beverly Cinema, American Cinematheque and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. From its location on Fairfax Avenue, Cinefamily has become a hub of activity with its heady mix of new and retrospective movies, a particular blend of the highbrow, offbeat and way-out with an only-in-L.A. flavor.

Recent programming has included a series of films by and about the Beat Generation that included a sneak preview of the upcoming Kristen Stewart-starring "On the Road"; a number of little-known documentaries by the Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura; and screenings of the new cult fave "Miami Connection." During Christmas week, the theater will hold concurrent weeklong runs of the 1966 underground Czech film "Daisies" and 30th anniversary showings of the initial Rambo adventure "First Blood." On the calendar for January is a retrospective of the influential, prolific Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers.

This weekend, Cinefamily will have its second annual 24-hour fundraising telethon. With a goal of $144,000 on the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter (and eyes on even more than that), the venue is hoping to fund a new digital projector, sound upgrades, cameras and equipment for live streaming events and assorted repairs and upgrades to their building, the Silent Movie Theatre. Before the telethon has even started, they have raised more than $30,000. (Last year's telethon raised around $65,000.)

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Robert Downey Jr. will kick off the event on Saturday afternoon by opening a time capsule that was found on the premises (with instructions that it be opened by him in 2017 — they're early).

Cinefamily co-founder and current executive director Hadrian Belove said "almost nothing" is known about the provenance of the time capsule. As for its world-famous recipient, "We sent an email, through friends of friends we asked and literally all he said was, 'Sure, cool, I'll be there.' I don't even know if he knew it existed until we emailed him. It's a big mystery."

Also on the lineup for the telethon, which will be streamed online (with borrowed equipment) via cinefamily.org, are Jason Schwartzman eating a meal and catching up with an old friend; appearances by actor Nick Offerman, musician Mark Mothersbaugh, screenwriting guru Robert McKee, and the creators of the show "Pete And Pete"; plus an overnight talk show with John Hawkes, Eric Wareheim and Brie Larson.

The Cinefamily has been steadily adding members, going from only 70 before last year's telethon to nearly 1,000 now.

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"I didn't even know how to do a normal fundraiser," Belove said of the very idea of a let's-put-on-a-show telethon. "For better or worse, I wanted to do something more public and more grass-roots, with lots of little donations. And obviously I'm a huge Jerry Lewis fan.

"And it was as much telling people about us as about fundraising. The telethon itself is the proof that what we do has some unique value and interest. That, and I just really love the idea."

But the freewheeling fun of the event itself masks the serious needs and issues that underlie the fundraising drive. The rapid changeover from 35mm film to the DCP (digital cinema package) format as the industry exhibition standard has left many repertory houses like the Cinefamily unable to show certain recent restorations and increasing numbers of new releases.

"The DCP issue is going to severely limit the scope of what this can be as an organization if we don't solve it," Belove said of the $60,000 needed for a new, DCP-capable projector.

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"My official line is we absolutely support 35, we will show 35 every chance we get," he added. "However, I also need to be able to play things in whatever form the distributor has available to us."

But first there will be the long marathon of the telethon from Saturday to Sunday to actually raise the money for those changes. Last year, with last-minute preparations for the event Belove figures he was up for some 30 hours straight. But it's worth it to get the organization and its facility from what he describes as currently "the Little Rascals clubhouse" to the "glorious, shining castle of cinema" he thinks it could be, on par with venues in Toronto or New York.

"The goal of ours is to be more than just this cozy ramshackle operation, but to be a proper institution," said Belove. "In some ways our goal is to have the infrastructure and building match the ambition of the programming, so that we can be not just one of the top-notch cinematheques in the country in terms of programming but actually have the building to match."

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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