Liberty Hall's Film Church series continues with 'The Apartment
Film Church is a new classic film series collaboration between Liberty Hall cinema manager Mick Cottin and video store/box office manager Maggie Allen. Last month, the movie was Woody Allen's 1977 Best Picture winner "Annie Hall," and this Sunday morning at 11:30, Film Church will present Billy Wilder's 1960 Best Picture winner "The Apartment," starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine.
I caught up with Maggie Allen to ask her about Liberty Hall's plans for the Film Church series in general, as well as this weekend's screening of "The Apartment."
You must be passionate about movies to start up a film series that focuses on classics. What are your backgrounds in film?
Mick has been a projectionist for about 10 years, give or take a year. Mick studied creative writing and art history at KU. He’s also one of the smartest and most creative people I know. More importantly, he has fantastic taste in film. I earned my degree in film studies from KU in 1999, with a focus on film history. I’ve worked at Liberty Hall since 2000. I’m not going to say that 12 years in a video store/cinema is as good of an education in film as film school, but it comes pretty damn close.
I spent three years as the director of the international film program at the Topeka Public Library. With that program, I presented foreign films, giving an introduction to each, sharing why the films chosen are culturally and artistically significant. I had a terrific time doing that library program, and I wanted to bring something like it to Liberty Hall. Now, with Mick’s help and drive, I have been able to fulfill that ambition, with a program which is far richer and more fun than I had envisioned on my own.
What sparked the idea for Film Church? What do you hope to achieve?
We’ve wanted to do a classic film series for awhile now. We have had some success with the popular and cult films we’ve screened for the midnight movies and Liberty Hall Rewind; we thought it was time to try something more culturally relevant. But just doing a classic series didn’t seem like enough. Plenty of cinemas do that. We wanted to orchestrate something that would be more of an event. We want to provide the community an opportunity to experience classic films the way they were meant to be seen, as well as sharing a bit about why these films are artistically, culturally, and historically relevant.
This program isn’t just about watching films; it’s about the cinema experience, which goes beyond just the size of the screen. Cinema is a communal experience. It is about going somewhere else both physically and mentally, to share and experience with your fellow cultural pilgrims. It is about making the effort to experience the artist’s true vision. That is how watching a movie becomes an event.
There are several contributing factors that make Film Church what it is. In addition to watching a brilliant film in a beautiful, historic theater, I’ll be giving a brief “sermon” in the way of a short film history lecture. It’s just a brief introduction explaining why we chose that particular film and its significance from a film history perspective. Mick has compiled some vintage film trailers for the pre-show, and we have loads of film facts and trivia we share with our supplementary materials (pre-show slides and playbill). And there is the option of brunch for those who need something a little more substantial than popcorn. We have put a lot of effort into making sure this is a fairly exceptional film-going experience.
Brunch? How does that figure into this?
Mick had the idea of wanting to do a brunch service for an early Sunday screening. He thought about combining the brunch service with our classic film series idea, and Film Church was born. It’s a catered brunch which customers can buy tickets for when they purchase their movie tickets. The biscuits and gravy and Bloody Marys they did last time (for "Annie Hall") were so popular, they decided to bring them back again. But, I’m told the food will vary in the future. And, of course we will still have our concession stand for those who would rather have popcorn and Junior Mints for breakfast.
How will you choose your film each month? Are there certain themes or content you want to feature over others? How do you take the audience into consideration?
Choosing the films has been the most difficult part, as there are so many things we want to show. Our focus for the program will be on films which have a high cultural nutritional value. The focus is on quality and artistic ambition. But just because it’s Sunday morning don’t think the films we choose will always be “nice”. There is no theme or content that we will adhere to except artistic merit. We are in no way interested in pandering to the audience. We are lucky to operate in a community that is willing to seek out culture rather than insisting on easy, mindless entertainment. Liberty Hall’s patrons are appreciative of an intellectual challenge, which is one of the great things about working there.
Why a Sunday morning? Are these good "hangover" films?
Well, if I had a hangover these would be the sort of films I’d want to watch. If you spend all night pouring poison down your throat, you probably wouldn’t want someone pouring garbage into your eyes the next morning. I can’t abide a cheap, stupid, shouty movie when I’m hungover. And don’t forget, we have a full bar available and bloody Marys on special, so you can get a hair of the dog at the concession stand.
Are you showing digital copies or actual prints?
We definitely prefer to show prints whenever we can. Mick works hard to seek out the 35mm prints for us. If there were a film that we really wanted to show, but couldn’t find a print, we are not opposed to showing a digital copy. Prints are ideal, but it would still be worthwhile to see some films on a big screen if prints aren’t available.
Why "The Apartment"? What about it might surprise people?
When choosing the films for this series, we wanted to find works that are instantly recognized as classics but are not the most obvious choices. I think "The Apartment" fits the bill nicely in this regard. It is that rare sort of comedy that, while being genuinely funny with great warmth and wit, it is also very deep and, at times, very dark. It is even rarer to find a comedy that has Billy Wilder’s attention to detail, ambitious production quality, and grand vision. This is no ordinary comedy. "The Apartment" was progressive for its time and some of its content raised controversy. It demonstrates the sort of risk-taking and commitment to vision that makes a film a classic.
What's next month? How far ahead will you plan?
We will be holding Film Church once a month, starting at 11:30am each time. If it becomes popular enough, we may decide to do it more frequently. We have some ideas about what we want the next film to be, but still needs to solidify plans. We will be announcing July’s Film Church selection soon. Our plan is to have the next month’s Film Church selection made in time to announce at this month’s Film Church. I sort of like the program having an element of surprise about it.