Nitehawk Cinema opened its first location in Williamsburg eight years ago, and just three months in, the beloved dine-in movie theater had totally revolutionized the cinematic experience in New York State; Governor Andrew Cuomo overturned a prohibition-era law that made serving alcohol in motion picture theaters illegal, and it was all thanks to wheels set in motion by the visionaries at Nitehawk.
A second location opened in Prospect Park just before the start of the new year, and the unique programming just gets better and better all the time. (We’re especially excited to be working with Nitehawk on our Death Becomes Us true crime festival programming in a few weeks; they’ll host a screening of Zodiac at the Williamsburg location on Thursday, March 21st, and you can grab tickets to that here.)
Of course, Nitehawk wouldn’t be what it is without the brilliant mind of Director of Programming/Special Projects Caryn Coleman, who also just so happens to be one of our favorite humans of all time. It seemed like a no-brainer to feature her in this latest edition of Dream Jobs, so we headed over to Nitehawk Williamsburg to speak with her about her career trajectory, as well as about her initiative/series The Future of Film is Female, what an average day looks like for her and more:
All photos by Lexie Moreland
You received your MFA in Curating, with distinction, from Goldsmiths College, and you have an impressive resume in the art world. Film is obviously an art form, but how did you make the transition from Point A to Point B?
Truthfully, I’m very happy to be away from the art world and to have found my home in film. Movies have always been very big part of my life, defining my aesthetic and interests, but this love flourished during the time I lived in Los Angeles. When I decided to close my art gallery and go to graduate school in the UK, I realized that my interest was truly in moving images. I started integrating film into my curatorial practice looking at the relationship between art and film, something I’m still very much interested in, and eventually landed on just dealing with film. After unexpectedly moving to New York, I fortunately found a home at Nitehawk where I’ve been able to experiment and find my footing in the film community.
What first made you interested in film? Any favorite cinema memories?
I’ve always loved stories and storytelling. As a kid, I grew up watching the craziest stuff masked as age-appropriate entertainment (Last Unicorn, Thriller, Star Wars, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) but my parents did not take me to the cinema much at all. We lived in a small town in Florida so, like most kids growing up in the 80s, we watched most things on VHS. I will say that the first cinema experience I remember is walking to the car after seeing E.T. and saying to my mother, “I will never see that movie again.” And I didn’t for over 30 years!
If we’d have been able to interview you as a little kid, do you think you’d have envisioned the career trajectory you’ve had in any capacity? Or would she have told us something like, “I want to be an astronaut!”?
What career advice you’d have given yourself 15, 10, even 5 years ago?
Be patient, keep your head down, and just do things. It will all fall into place but maybe not as soon as you want.
You recently founded The Future of Film is Female, which is an amazing initiative and series! How long had you been thinking of doing this, what went into making it happen, and what will it look like moving forward?
The idea for The Future of Film is Female came out of programming I was doing at Nitehawk Cinema, particularly the Nitehawk Shorts Festival where the best, ongoing relationships I’ve formed over the seven years we’ve done it has been with women filmmakers. I had initially wanted to have a shirt done for the festival (which has always been dedicated to gender parity) in 2017 but I was too busy to get it done in time. So once the dust settled, I launched the first campaign in February 2018. The mission is simple: all profits from the t-shirt and button sales go towards a woman filmmaker with a short film at any stage of production. I understand that financial support for short films (as a whole) is something that we need to endorse in the independent film community and, because, often filmmakers careers are born with shorts, it only makes sense that if we want to help develop the work of female directors then we need to support early on.
In our first year, we’ve been able to provide funds to five films, one of which, Amber Sealey’s How Does it Start?, just had its world premiere at Sundance. We’ve also been given extraordinary platform by the Museum of Modern Art in a screening partnership that highlights recent contemporary films (features and shorts) directed by women. Our goal here is to remind audiences that, despite a larger representation, women are making brilliant work RIGHT NOW. Let’s not make the same mistake of ignoring a whole generation of filmmakers, as we’ve done in the past, when we can champion them today.
And who are some female filmmakers you feel are the future? Some of the best female made movies in 2018 we may have missed? Some projects you’re excited for this year?
The list is long but, to name just a few: Chloe Zhao, Desiree Akhavan, Karyn Kusama, Jennifer Kent, and A.V. Rockwell. As for 2018, don’t laugh but I think that people really missed the brilliance of Blockers (directed by Kay Cannon)! Other than that, I can’t recommend enough from 2019: Zhao’s The Rider, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Tamra Jenkin’s Private Life, Maysaloun Hamoud’s Bar Bahar (In Between), and Shirin Neshat’s Looking for Oum Kulthum.
Some of the films directed by women that I’m looking forward to in 2019 are Anna Boden’s Captain Marvel (obviously), Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, Emma Tammi’s The Wind, and Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki.
And in terms of what you do at Nitehawk, how do you go about the process of planning the programming? Are there any past programs that stick out in your mind that were especially memorable?
This is a tough question because, in addition to my programming, I’m also responsible for ensuring my department’s programming is all good and scheduled. For me, my own interest has transitioned from repertory programming to concentrating more on new, independent films (supporting those new voices whether that be in horror, female filmmakers, or shot films). And then, as a whole, we work together with our individual ideas for monthly program that I schedule out and manage throughout the year. We look for things that are timely, reissued, or those white whales we’ve been chasing for year that we finally caught.
At Nitehawk we look to have a breadth of offerings in terms of films which truly represents the diverse interests in our Cinema Department. We always try to give the audience the best experience they can have.
As for my most memorable? Well, recently my two conversations with Karyn Kusama after Jennifer’s Body and Girlfight were incredibly inspiring. But I have to say my most memorable was one of my first, my series on the films of Karen Black. It was before she passed away so I was able to work directly with her. She was too sick to attend so we had recorded introductions by her and then her friends (Sean Young, Alan Cumming, and Aida Ruilova) came to the theater to introduce in person. It was a truly special moment to honor the career of a women I greatly admired and I’m so happy that she was able to know it was happening.
And was there anything that stands out as having been logistically very tricky to get off the ground, but that you were able to pull off in the end?
There have been a few events that have nearly expanded our limits such as a live-performance, 16mm, electronic art and film experience. But, we’ve slowly built up, throughout the years, what we’re able to do. Some of that, even Q&As in the beginning, seemed risky at the time and now are just so normal. I like to keep trying new things (as long as our projectionists don’t murder me).
What is the importance of cinema houses right now, with the vast amounts of streaming available?
The experience of watching movies in a cinema will never be diminished or duplicated. There is nothing like it. I personally have no problems with films streaming in abundance because it increases people’s access to great work. That said, the issue I have is when theaters aren’t allowed to screen films because of a network exclusive; that limits the function of film and film viewing. It’s a very interesting discussion and one that will keep art houses on their toes about how they program (which is a good thing) but I believe that cinemas are just as important as they were fifty years ago.
Snacks are obviously VERY IMPORTANT while watching movies. What’s your personal favorite thing to eat during a screening from Nitehawk’s every-day menu?
We have snacks? I’m usually too busy drinking our cocktails to notice! Kidding (although I do think that having wine or a great cocktail during a movie is the best). I usually don’t eat at Nitehawk if it’s one of my screenings, too anxious. But, for me, brunch is the best time to come here because everything on our brunch menu is to die for and, no joke, our Bloody Marys are the best in the city. As is our popcorn. Nearly 8 years in and I’m still not sick of it.
You just opened the Prospect Park location, but you’ve obviously had the Williamsburg outpost for years. What’s been the biggest change in the neighborhood that you’ve noticed in that time?
We’ve actually started to see the next phase of change here in Williamsburg; businesses that opened a couple years ago that have now closed or being replaced. I would say this section of Williamsburg has seen a ton of residential construction and is more populated than when we opened. My walk from Greenpoint used to be desolate but is now filled with parents taking kids to soccer practice, bars, bike lanes, and parks.
Between Nitehawk and your other commitments, what does an average day look like for you, if such a thing exists? And if there ISN’T an average day, do you have any daily habits/rituals to help you feel like there’s a semblance of routine?
In addition to Nitehawk and outside programming, I also have a four year old son. So my average day starts by taking him to school and then getting into the office early. From there it’s generally answering emails, watching screeners, managing the calendar and expectations, meetings, plotting, and the never-ending job of problem solving. If I don’t have a screening in the evening, I head home and spend the rest of the day with family (dinner, bath, and bedtime). Having a kid keeps it all in perspective!
What else (besides what we’ve already talked about here) are you excited for in 2019, either with relation to Nitehawk or otherwise?
I’m very excited for the seventh edition of the Nitehawk Shorts Festival this November. It’s my favorite project I work on all year (submissions open April 1). Also excited for a forthcoming Future of Film is Female zine, and more upcoming programs at MoMA. Other than that, I’m excited for the rest of the season of Vanderpump Rules and teaching my kid to swim.
And finally, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one movie with you, what would it be?