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CinéSPEAK on building community and its post-COVID brick-and-mortar plans

3 minute read
Philly filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Hadiya Gaiters collaborates with CinéSPEAK. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mueller.)
Philly filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Hadiya Gaiters collaborates with CinéSPEAK. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mueller.)

West Philly resident and organizer Sarah Mueller really loves movies. Growing up in a movie-loving, theater-going family, Mueller has always included film in the center of her life.

“I have always loved movies," she says. "I grew up in a big movie-watching family. Every weekend, we could be found in the aisles of Blockbuster video, arguing over selections. We also went out to the movies occasionally. There was an old restored theater in Annville called the Allen. Super dope single-screen that only played one movie at a time, like back in the day. I ended up deciding to study film in college.”

For the love of film

Inspired by her love of film, Mueller founded CinéSPEAK in 2013. CinéSPEAK is a community-oriented cinema organization that hosts film screenings in schools, libraries, public parks—anywhere people can congregate, kick back, and enjoy a movie. Before anything, CinéSPEAK is a grassroots organization that connects audiences with great repertory cinema from around the world. Speaking with BSR, Mueller gave insight into how COVID-19 has forced CinéSPEAK to adapt and make changes to its rich programming schedule.

“We, like so many other arts organizations, were directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," Mueller says. "On March 11th, we, with our friends and program collaborators at Vox Populi, made the difficult call to cancel our screening and discussion of Lizzie Borden’s iconic queer feminist film Born into Flames. At the time, we felt like we were being overly cautious—some program participants and ticket holders thought we were doing way too much.

“…In the coming days and weeks, we came to realize it was the absolute best call. All of our spring programs—repertory screenings and contemporary premieres, in-conversations, and fundraisers, most of which we had been planning for over half a year—had to all be canceled in an instant.”

Community organizer Arika Gold also plays a role in CinéSPEAK's outreach. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mueller.)
Community organizer Arika Gold also plays a role in CinéSPEAK's outreach. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mueller.)

Curating community

Forced to cancel their public screening programs, CinéSPEAK has begun building a vibrant online community, hosting live film screenings and talkbacks where audiences can engage with films from the safety of their own homes. Mueller explained how CinéSPEAK has remained connected with its fan base by selecting passionate cinephiles from their Friends of CinéSPEAK Facebook Group to moderate their virtual watch parties on the internet.

“What’s really cool is that we’ve been able to shift gears and join our art-house cinema peers across the country in hosting film programs online," Mueller says. "In late March, in an effort to support art film lovers and theaters during these difficult and unprecedented times, independent film distributors enabled local art house cinemas like us to present independent titles from around the world previously only available in-theater.”

“Every Friday, we are releasing provocative new indie films in our virtual theater," she continued. "Our website is being relaunched in June—until that time, the best way to find out what’s playing is by joining our mailing list—and connecting with us on social media. All events are posted to our Facebook.”

Looking toward the future, Mueller and her CinéSPEAK team plan on bringing their programming back with force. Their post-COVID strategies include continued mobile programming throughout the city as well as a brick-and-mortar cinema in West Philly.

Mueller noted that each ticket sale (for the virtual screenings) enables CinéSPEAK to continue bringing provocative film work to the community and gets them closer to opening their brick-and-mortar cinema. Half of all ticket sales will directly benefit current and future operations—including the West Philadelphia cinema space.

What, When, Where:

CinéSPEAK You can support their current and future work even further by donating online.

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