A Bright Spot in the Bright Family Screening Room
Written by Donna Sorbello | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
ArtsEmerson, under the leadership of Executive Director Robert Orchard, opened its doors to the magnificently restored Paramount Theatre for its inaugural season in September of 2010. With innovative planning, theatre companies from all over the US and the world started honoring Boston with their unique, progressive, acclaimed productions. With that same artistic forethought, ArtsEmerson took an unusual route, adding the Bright Family Screening Room to the primarily theater-focused Paramount. The room was named for the family of Kevin Bright, a student from the Emerson class of 1976. The films that have been shown in the past two years in the 170-seat, well-cushioned theatre, are not just any films. In its planning, the Bright Family Screening Room had been fitted with the very equipment most other movie theatres are eliminating. As theatres had moved into the “digital” age, ArtsEmerson — equipped for digital as well– prepared itself for showing both 35 and 16 millimeter films.
Rebecca Meyers, hired as the Director of Film Programs For the Bright Family Screening Room, started in working months before the opening, in preparation for the unique approach ArtsEmerson would take with this space. A veritable encyclopedia of film facts, from the effect of the projector shutter on the (almost imperceptible) perceptual experience of viewing projected film print to the history of film itself, Meyers has a particular vision, supported by Orchard and ArtsEmerson, to bring viewers films in their original forms, as they were meant to be seen.
Meyers arrived at Emerson via Cornell University, a semester in France at Cannes, and graduate work in film at the University of Iowa. She worked as either a programmer or curator in stints at the Harvard Film Archive as well as the Mass Art Film Society, under Saul Levine, and at Chicago’s Onion City and Underground Festivals, among others. Ironically, as I write this, Meyers’ role as film programmer for ArtsEmerson is being dissolved and will be absorbed by in-house staff, though Meyers will teach a film course at Emerson in the fall. Still her impact has been profound on the viewing experience at ArtsEmerson.
Meyers is determined to provide her audience with films in their original, non-digitized form. She often chased down rare archival prints and also presented new restoration prints. As she explains it, film is fragile and sometimes doesn’t hold up after years of showings. Presenting newly restored prints, the Bright Screening Room offerd viewers the chance to see a film that might not have been seen in decades. Following various themes, she categorized films in terms of Legends and Pioneers, including non-fiction films from documentary to experimental styles. One of the documentaries shown was Primary a portrait of JFK’s 1960s primary race, made by one of the fathers of documentary film making, Robert Drew (who is now 88).
Myers feels strongly that DVDs are meant for small, in-home viewing, where as showing films in their original form, on the large screen that they were filmed for, is how a film looks best and what the Bright Family Screening Room offers. To Meyers, that includes such aspects of film as the texture and graininess of 35 millimeter black and white films, the amount of frames per second (again, that pesky shutter working), the actual color tones of the color work of someone like Renoir–whose retrospective is ending their current film season–to the unique results from the process of Technicolor as compared to subsequent color process in film history.
Meyers is a purist, who has been proud of the opportunity the ArtsEmerson film programming has provided for its audience thus far. Meyers’ varied series have stretched from classic musicals (including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) to a film noire series to family fare, as well as films that represent history via its directors or techniques. Along with her goal of making the experience of film-going at ArtsEmerson special, she strived to help the audience appreciate and understand the uniqueness in the art of the film they were experiencing. On several occasions a director has been on hand to answer questions. In a rare showing of the film, Woyzeck, which Meyers managed to obtain from Hungary, the director Janos Szasz was there to comment on the bleak, but beautiful film he had made. Meyers has traveled to various film festivals from Toronto to New York and Michigan, and is an annual attendee at the Flaherty Film Seminar, named for the true father of the documentary, acclaimed for his early film Nanook of the North, made in l921.
Some changes are obviously on the horizon for the Bright Family Screening Room, now that Meyers is stepping down. The American Voices, New Play Institute, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is relocating from Arena stage in Washington, DC, to ArtsEmerson. The American Voices New Play Institute is primarily an organization focused on new work for the stage. Its two leaders, David Dower and Polly Carl, may now be overseeing the Bright Family Screening Room venue along with other in-house staff. Along with other possibilities, the screening room may be used to have a more direct connection to the work being performed on the ArtsEmerson stage. But Robert Orchard tells me there will be other aspects to the use of the space. He is a visionary in his own way, so there’s no doubt that whatever is next seen in the film space will be unique and exciting. Hopefully, the Bright Family Screening Room will continue to take advantage of its state of the art 16 and 35 millimeter projectors, in order to offer films that would, without such unique screening spaces, disappear from film culture.
The world of film that Rebecca Meyers opened up to share with Boston audiences is to be lauded. Possibly under-advertised, it’s unfortunate that those comfortable seats, each with its own enormous leg-room, weren’t more filled on the occasions that I attended. But for those of us who did get to partake in at least some of her offerings, we’ve all come away with a richer sense of the varied styles and approaches to film as it continued to morph into its present state. Thank you, Rebecca.
For more information on ArtsEmerson programs and the Bright Family Screening Room, please visit artsemerson.org.