Over-the-Rhine theater bids to become a major cultural player with Seven Weeks of Cinema
When C. Jacqueline Wood started her Mini Microcinema in 2015, it was temporary — she used a $15,000 Globe Grant from the People’s Liberty philanthropic lab to program shorts, art movies and documentaries for several months at the lab’s office space near Findlay Market. It was a hit, and its beautiful red and white cinema sign excited and inspired many to dream about something long missing from Cincinnati’s — and Over-the-Rhine’s — cultural renaissance: a serious-minded cinematheque.
Wood was then able to reprise her microcinema as a temporary exhibit at The Carnegie in Covington. And last fall, with initial fundraising, she found a permanent home for the nonprofit Mini at 1329 Main St. in OTR. She has been slowly and relatively quietly introducing the 35-seat space and her programming vision to the city’s film buffs and arts community ever since. But now she is ready to make a bigger splash.
To celebrate the Mini’s second anniversary, and to begin a membership drive, she and her team are launching Seven Weeks of Cinema with a Friday night party. The following days will bring such stimulating free programming (a $5 donation is suggested) as Home Movie Days: Selections from the Kentucky Amateur Film Archives (Sunday); Animalia: From Horses to Bats to Bears and Beyond (July 13); Sankofa, a 1993 movie by Haile Gerima presented by Black Folks Make Movies (July 16); and Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy, featuring work by acclaimed Pittsburgh-area filmmaker Tony Buba (July 18). Additionally, WatchWriteNow (a group the author of this article founded) will be offering a film criticism workshop for kids. Varied and stimulating programming continues through Aug. 17.
When asked how The Mini is taking shape now that it has some stability, Wood focuses on the cinema’s commitment to both the audience experience and the artists’ work.
“We are a small 35-seat screening space with top-notch projection and sound equipment,” she says. “The quality of the viewing experience is the most important aspect of what we do, because it pays respect to the filmmakers and artists who throw everything into their work.”
Wood is a filmmaker herself and understands how frustrating poor audio and visual can be. The Mini Microcinema has devoted considerable resources to getting these things right, though she admits that a little bit of light leaks in through the DIY curtains and that sometimes a washing machine running in the basement can be heard. Wood considers these slight imperfections as part of the experience.
She also talks about the importance of not charging for admission.
“The space is inviting and free because I believe equal access is crucial,” she says. “But I also believe that putting a price tag on an experience makes it into a commodity, rather than a cultural product. Cinema was co-opted by business from the very beginning. The Mini is trying to challenge this — like an art gallery, why can’t a cinema be free? Do we have to sell tickets to be sustainable? Why limit our transaction to currency when the things we are dealing with are ideas?”
The organization is launching a membership program along with Seven Weeks of Cinema. Wood hopes the community will support the effort — all membership donations go directly to the rent and utilities of the storefront, she says.
How has her initial vision for The Mini changed as it evolved from its original status, being hosted by People’s Liberty, to become its own entity?
“Initially, I created The Mini Microcinema because I saw a regional need for an exhibition space that focuses on experimental/alternative/outside-the-mainstream film, video and media,” she says. “The pop-up exhibition at People’s Liberty was a wonderful starting point and helped me gauge the interest and viability of a permanent screening space for the future. In that first season, I focused on the work that excites me the most — film and video that pushes boundaries by playing with both form and content.”
This is still the intent, but they’ve expanded the programming and involved other curators and cinema organizations.
“Along the way, I have met an incredible group of people who also believe in The Mini’s mission and have helped in all aspects of running the organization,” Wood says. “Specifically, Peter Van Hyning, Andy Marko and Julian Etienne have contributed their unique voices to programming, as well as running the organization. We also have a dedicated group of volunteers and interns.”
She has also remembered to include work made here in her programming mix.
“I never want filmmakers or artists to believe that they are lesser just because they live in Cincinnati,” she says. “We champion The Mini as an accessible space for artists to exhibit their work and try to work with anyone who contacts us. We are still learning and catching up, but also The Mini is available as a rental for those artists or filmmakers whose work may not fit into our curatorial mission.”
So what might The Mini be like in five or 10 years? Wood has definite ideas.
“I still can’t believe that The Mini is only two,” she says. “Wow, what a crazy few years it has been to get this thing off the ground. But the future is so exciting.
“We have a lot of work to do — fundraising, grant writing, creating a sustainable business model — while also continuing to provide quality programming. I envision The Mini will always have a small screening space for some screenings, but I also believe that as the years go by, our reach will grow and venture into larger venues. We have so many ideas — filmmaking classes, a local media distribution company, a library and archive.”
The MINI MICROCINEMA launches its Seven Weeks of Cinema programming on Friday. More information: mini-cinema.org.