The Way Film Is Meant to be Seen

The interior of the Grand Ilusion Cinema. Photo by Patrick Richardson Wright.
The interior of the Grand Illusion Cinema. Photo by Patrick Richardson Wright.
The interior of the Grand Illusion Cinema. Photo by Patrick Richardson Wright.

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Nicki Sucec.

If you like independent, foreign or rare film, it is hard not to appreciate the Grand Illusion Cinema.  Seattle’s oldest continuously running theater since in 1968, the group must be doing something right! It is absolutely one of a kind in all respects.  The volunteer-operated, non-profit film house plays a very important role in providing the experience of what going to see classic films used to be like.  More importantly, it provides a venue for small, independent filmmakers to get their work out into the world the way film is meant to be seen—not just on YouTube, but in a theater, ideally with a proper screen, sound system and with 100% of the viewer’s attention.

Set up off the street, the theater is a hidden, magical place that oozes charm.  One must duck under overhanging vines and walk past brightly painted concrete walls to get up to the porch just outside the entry.  The little lobby (where popcorn is sold in paper bags) is warm and inviting. Once inside the tiny theater, one is transported back in time.  The lighting is dim, there are red velvet curtains and chairs and beautiful, antique tin ceilings!  Wonderful!

The evening—a screening of the documentary The Kingdom of Survival (in which one man’s quest for truth and justice thoughtfully challenges our most basic beliefs about the U.S. government and presents alternative options via interviews from well-respected, alternative thinkers)—began with a charming theater volunteer in shorts and a t-shirt, introducing the Cinema itself, offering concise information on membership and upcoming events, and humorously hinting what might be in a “secret” Halloween day screening.  The same volunteer introduced the director (M.A. Littler) and producer (Alex Hebert) before the film and started the Q and A session afterward.  Seated in the audience, he asked the filmmakers one or two thoughtful questions and was very patient in his conversation even after the somewhat defensive (or perhaps, nervous) director cut him off twice.

The Q and A session offered valuable insight into the filmmakers’ approach and beliefs. The director made a point of saying that the G.I. was an ideal venue for his film.  When asked how he is going to get his film to a larger public, he rather strongly professed his dislike of any mainstream distributors (e.g., Amazon or iTunes) and made it clear that he and the producer would not compromise their values and the values expressed in the film, even to get their vision to a wider audience. True renegades! This is their first promo tour.  Let’s hope they succeed in getting their film out there because it absolutely needs to be seen!

Films like this have the potential to have a huge impact, not just in one community, but all over the country, perhaps even around the globe.  The director himself, whose film is a quest for “visions that challenge the status quo”, might be one of the next great thought leaders. Who knows?  Littler also made clear that, unlike the films of now famous documentary maker Michael Moore, his film does not lead the viewer into judgment, but rather simply presents a powerful grouping of information from like-minded individuals. We receive much of this information in the form of often intense, historical and modern day newsreel footage effectively timed with the interviewees’ sharing their philosophies and analyses of contemporary U.S. politics and government, via voice over.

The showing of The Kingdom of Survival without a doubt fulfills one of the Grand Illusion Cinema’s most serious and important aims—to present “truly independent cinema.”

The Grand Illusion Cinema shows a wide and wild variety of films year-round.