Q&A du C-U: A. McCann on the Art

“Five for Filmmaking,” Part 5
A short interview with Austin McCann of the Art Theater Cooperative

by Jason Pankoke

Due to production delays on our end, C-U Confidential #7 will street a little too late to give our dearest readers the advance scoop on a grouping of fall season film festivals taking place within close proximity on the calendar and geographically to Champaign-Urbana. Therefore, we counter with companion coverage to achieve the same goal, presenting exclusively on C-U Blogfidential the full conversations we had with festival representatives for the article. This is the last of five entries.

Unlike the showcases we’ve covered so far, our final movie gathering is intended to salute a specific place for its longevity in providing a consistent theatrical experience for its surrounding community. Tuesday, November 12, 2013 is the 100th birthday of the Art Theater (known as the Park Theatre through 1958) in downtown Champaign, and its member-owned operating body plans to mark the occasion with a grand party later tonight! The cooperative will host a reception at the Art beginning at 6 p.m.; scheduled attractions include a costume contest along with premieres of separate book and documentary projects covering the venue’s century-spanning history.

Following at 8 p.m., the visiting Andrew Alden Ensemble will accompany a shorts program featuring pieces from the dawn of filmmaking to the 1960s called “Time Trip.” This trio will encore tomorrow night, Wednesday, November 13, 8 p.m., by performing another original score alongside the German expressionistic horror film VAMPYR (1932) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The Art’s “Late Night” programming team has offered their own esoteric anniversary selections grouped as “Freaks of Cinema,” headlined by director Tod Browning’s classic Pre-Code chiller FREAKS (also from 1932) which is preceded by three choice short films of a peculiar nature; having already played this past weekend, it will repeat one final time on Thursday, November 10, at 10 p.m. Tickets will cost $18 ($15 for Co-op members) for the entire Tuesday itinerary, $15 for the main “Time Trip” performance, $12 for the VAMPYR experience, and normal prices for “Freaks of Cinema.”

It could be argued that toasting the Art for all its unique virtues is equal to applauding the worth of local businesses and tipping our cap to the entire canon of the cinema itself, all at the same time. While mulling that Big Picture on your own clock, dearest dorm room philosophers, stay with us as we seek out the skinny from Art Theater general manager Austin McCann, a Florida transplant and die-hard cinephile who worked at the U-C Independent Media Center for two years before landing his current role as de facto leader of the Art revolution!

Read on, McCann fan MacDuff …

C-U Blogfidential: Austin, we appreciate you giving us the scoop on this month’s 100th anniversary observance at the Art Theater Cooperative in Champaign! We should first delve into the order of business, the celebrations proper. What can you tell us about the specific events that will be taking place at the Art during the week of November 11?

Austin McCann: We’re celebrating our centennial with a special event on Tuesday, November 12, our actual 100th [birthday]. This celebration will boast three premieres: the performance of a specially commissioned silent film-and-music performance by the Andrew Alden Ensemble [of Boston], the debut of a new book called The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years [written by Perry C. Morris, Joseph Muskin, and Audrey Wells], and a documentary film about the history of the Art [produced by Shatterglass Studios of Champaign]. The audience will enjoy free food, drinks, and more. Dressing in the style of “Old Hollywood” is encouraged! The event is from 6 to 10 p.m.

Then, on Wednesday, November 13, the Ensemble will play their [original] score to Carl Dreyer’s surreal 1932 vampire horror film, VAMPYR.

CUBlog: It is a very interesting and eclectic itinerary! As a concrete illustration of what your theater offers that many others would not, why is this milestone and its celebration significant in the life of a venue such as the Art?

AM: We’re the last surviving, old-time, early-cinema movie theater in central Illinois. We opened in 1913, and movies from that time look quite different. They don’t look cinematic at all to the modern eye. So, we’ve played [during the existence of the Art] these pre-cinematic movies all the way through film noir, the classic Hollywood period, alternative films, the 1970s heyday, some adult films, and finally our current, semi-comfortable seat in the art film movement. It’s interesting to see the way that we navigate upholding the entire history of cinema as well as trying to serve as a forward-thinking experiment.

CUBlog: We certainly wish the Art 100 years more in continuing to channel the trends and phases of cinema history. What kind of immediate future can we expect at the Art based on such things as the successful Co-op transition, the installation of the DCP projection system, and response to current programming choices?

AM: We’ve been experimenting with a few different kinds of programming this past year, from our greatly expanded “Late Night” offerings to hosting more panels and talkbacks after films. Everything we do is aimed at expanding the audience for art house cinema in this community.

Being a co-op makes that much easier, because there is a built-in loyalty from our owners; they know this really is a theater that speaks to their interests and concerns. We try to use art as a leading light for this community in many ways. Eventually, we want to see more organizations, locally and nationally, taking on our concerns [including] how to build interest in art and [also] build more community-supported arts institutions.

CUBlog: In your tenure so far as general manager of the Art, which aspects of the position have you found to be the most interesting and rewarding for you?

AM: The Art has a really wonderful base of customers – I want to call them our “fan base” – and talking to these folks, who’ve been coming to movies at the Art regularly for years, is very special to me. We can talk about programming, the value of having a community-rooted film institution in Champaign-Urbana, or the future of cinema production and reception.

I took a few of these loyal folks and created the Late Night committee last winter. These are now the people with whom I collaborate on the Late Night program. They were just a few friendly faces who came to see all the Late Nights I’d been programming, so I opened it up to them. Now, they get to see how hard the work is behind the scenes. We get to collaborate, support one another, and enjoy our successes together, which is the whole point of this endeavor.

• Schedule:

Click here for the complete Art Theater 100th anniversary schedule!

:: Part 4 ::


Interview conducted October 22, 2013, via e-mail.

CUBlog EXTRA! Interview No.10 © 2013 Jason Pankoke

Back to the fore, McCann fan MacDuff…

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