Move over, Ebert


By Rachel Fershleiser

Speakeasy Cinema invites audiences to talk film

Matt Kohn wants to be sure people know about the booze. The writer, filmmaker, and screening series host sees wine as an integral part of his intimate, intellectual Speakeasy Cinema evenings at Collective: Unconscious in Tribeca.

“One great thing is that you can bring your own alcohol,” he says. “It really increases the atmosphere of talking and sharing.”

It must be conversation and companionship that keeps people coming back to Kohn’s seven-month-old series, since no one knows what film they’ll be seeing until it begins. Instead, filmmakers and fans gather monthly to see a mystery movie selected by a guest host. Not even the projectionist knows what he’ll see until he pops in the disk.

“Originally, I didn’t want to do a screening series, because there are so many cool ones already, and frankly, it seemed like a pain in the ass,” Kohn admits. “I had to think of a way that was creative and different, that would always make me surprised.”

He keeps the suspense alive by inviting a different director, producer, actor, or editor each month and asking him or her to present a “desert island disc.” After the film is shown and the wine is shared, Kohn moderates group discourse about what has just been seen.

Six ground rules dictate the proceedings, some practical (“we do it the third Monday of every month”) and others designed to guide the discussions. For example, guests may not show films they’ve worked on, only those they love or hate, and find important or inspiring.

“I don’t want pressure on the filmmaker to explain or defend,” Kohn says. “He or she can critique as well as praise, and get closer to the audience.”

Another vital guideline requires that attendees talk about art, not about industry. Monetary concerns and the ills of the studio system are issues for another time and place.

“Two hundred years from now, people won’t want to talk industry—they won’t know our industry,” Kohn explains. “They’ll know these artifacts we’ve left behind.”

The next installment in the series takes place this Monday, September 18th, when Venezuelan-born filmmaker Pedro Carvajal will host. He and Kohn met on a bus to Boston for a film festival where Kohn was showing “Call it Democracy,” his nonpartisan look at the electoral process in American history. Carvajal screened his latest feature, a documentary called “POPaganda: The Art & Crimes of Ron English.”

“Cinema is a one-way medium,” says Carvajal, who jumped at the chance to engage an audience in dialogue. “I love the idea of making it interactive.”

Obviously Carvajal can’t say what film he’s selected for September’s Speakeasy, but he does hint that it may involve his home country. “Right now Venezuela is in a unique position; it’s the one country with a real chance at revolution,” he says. “I’d love to give an audience a chance to talk about that, and to take a better look than we get from the mainstream media.”

He also expresses enthusiasm about Venezuela’s recent financial support of the local independent film industry. Kohn concedes that money problems are “tragically important to a filmmaker,” but he’ll try to steer Monday’s conversation back to the essentials. “What I want to talk about is art. How do we make movies? Why do we make movies?”

It has all the makings of a hearted discussion — especially after a few bottles of wine.

Speakeasy Cinema happens Monday, 9/18, and the 3rd Monday of every month following at Collective: Unconscious, 279 Church Street, 212-254-5277, www.weird.org. Doors open at 7 PM, movie starts at 7:30. $5 at the door, BYOB.