Features and Columns · Movies

Movie Houses of Worship: Los Angeles’ The Cinefamily

By  · Published on November 24th, 2013

“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, FSR and Nonfics contributor Dan Schindel chose one of his favorite theaters. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

The Cinefamily

at the Silent Movie Theatre

Location: 611 Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

Opened: Originally built in 1942 as the “Old Time Movies” theater by John Hampton.

History: A tremendous silent film enthusiast, Hampton used the theater to exclusively showcase the old greats for decades. The theater closed in 1979 and remained shuttered until 1991, when Lawrence Austin convinced Hampton’s widow to sign ownership over to him. He rebranded the location as the Silent Movie Theater. It continued to screen only silents until 1997, when Austin was murdered by a hitman contracted by one of his coworkers. The theater was then purchased in 1999 by Charlie Lustman, who gave it a million dollar remodeling. In addition to silent film screenings, it now served as a trendy venue for upscale private events. The Cinefamily as we know it was born when brothers Dan and Sammy Harkham and Cinefile Video founder Hadrian Belove bought the Silent Movie Theater from Lustman in 2006. The theater is now a nonprofit, supported by sponsors and those who sign up to be members.

No. of Screens: 1

Current First-Run Titles: The Act of Killing screens this Monday through Wednesday, and The Punk Singer starts on Friday.

Repertory Programming: They’re currently running a Kris Kristofferson retrospective, which includes a special post-Thanksgiving screening of Heaven’s Gate. Over the remainder of this month, they’ve got Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space, A Brief History of Time, They Live, Deadly Prey, and Deadliest Prey. The Cinefamily prides itself on a diverse showcase of films, spanning all genres and levels of prestige. Programming series include Friday Night Frights (horror films), Animation Breakdown (animated fare), the Lost & Found Film Club (rare oddities of instructional, corporate, and otherwise sponsored films) and more. And of course, it’s still one of the few places left to see silent films with live music accompaniment.

Special Events: Comedian Doug Benson drops by once or twice a month for Movie Interruption, in which he hosts a live riff-along to films of ill repute. This month, he’s doing Waterworld. Greg Proops records his Film Club podcast there as well. Every year, the theater plays host to Everything is Festival, a week-long extravaganza of found footage compilations and talent showcases. All kinds of unusual events pop up at The Cinefamily. Cinespia recently partnered with them to present zither musician Laraaji’s “Laughter Meditation Workshop.” You never know what to expect.

Why I Worship Here: Because as a member I get into any screening for free. Since membership is just $23 a month, there’s a lot of value to be wrung out of it. The Cinefamily has allowed me to see so many films I would otherwise have never even thought to seek out. The theater has introduced me to Never Too Young To Die, Basket Case and Consuming Spirits, among many more. I saw Studio Ghibli movies on a big screen for the first time there. I watched Nick Offerman sing a song about how much he loves weed and his wife on its stage. I’ve taken part in a massive VHS tape exchange there. I sat through a seven-hour Looney Tunes marathon. This theater is a home for every film and every film fan, showcasing the best of the art house, the grindhouse and everything in between.

Recent Screenings of Note: Ziegfield Follies played as part of an enormous party at which attendees were encouraged to dress up. Jamie Babbit presented a screening of Orlando. The first four episodes of the new season of the Adult Swim show Eagleheart were hosted by the show’s stars, creators and Aziz Ansari. There was a members-only sneak preview of Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?, Michel Gondry’s new documentary about Noam Chomsky.

Devotion to the Concessions: There’s the staple of popcorn, along with a nice selection of Honest Teas. But the true stars of the concession booth are the amazing array of specialty cupcakes, courtesy of Crumbs Bake Shop. There’s also ice cream sandwiches from Cool Haus, the best ice cream truck in L.A. (and there are many ice cream trucks in L.A.).

Last Word: The theater is gearing up for its annual 24-hour telethon, an event they hold to help raise the funds they need to run smoothly. Last year, they got a brand new digital projector and roof renovations out of the telethon, among much more. Last year, Robert Downey Jr., Robert McKee and Mark Mothersbaugh took part, and who knows who they’ll get this time around. It’s as good a time as any to throw a few bucks The Cinefamily’s way and help their efforts. They’re well-worth the support.

Header photo by Al Pavangkanan. Other images via Cinefamily’s Facebook and Flickr.

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