One Man’s Cult is Another Man’s Religion: An Interview with Valhalla Cinema Pt. II

In part II of our chat with Jose Maturana of the Valhalla Cinema, we talk about what sets them apart, the growth in pop-ups, how you go about programming a marathon, and the future.

DN – What do you think really sets you apart from the other event cinema or pop-up cinemas, do you think it’s your film choices or your location or….?

Jose Maturana – Well no-one else is doing the marathon, for every obvious reasons – they’re really hard, brutal to put together and run. I think our audience is nerdier and geekier than most other audiences, so I think that’s a part of it. Film selection and location? I don’t know anyone that is screening in a co-working space. The drive-in. We’re the only people doing a popup drive in that I know of in Melbourne.

Our differentiator is bringing back experiences that used to exist in some format that don’t anymore. The last sci-fi marathon in Melbourne was 97/98, that was what I wanted to bring back into this time, same with the drive-in…just about reclaiming a bit of the past. I think because I remember those and many other people my age who do remember them also, they also want to experience the same, and that’s where that community thing comes back, they’re very similar people to me. Your Shadow Electrics, your Rooftops, they are different crowds to the kinds of crowds we get, absolutely, even Deja-vu cinema which is a very similar feel cinema to what we do, that’s a different crowd again. I think there’s more irony associated with a lot of those screenings, people will go along for a laugh rather than wanting to see the films they saw as kids. I think for us it’s still very much about, you know, seeing Gremlins when you were 8 or 9 and wanting to see it again on the big screen. It’ll get screened regularly on TV or you can get it on DVD or Blu-ray, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as going into a theatre and seeing it with other people that might be your age and remembering what that felt like.

After saying all that we’re still figuring it out, I don’t really know who our audience is yet. It’s funny because it’ll cut across a lot of different ages, like we get a lot of uni students. I mean that was me back then, I’d seek out these screenings at the Valhalla when there there really were only two places you could go for cult screenings. But there’s definitely resurgence now of cult screenings, I don’t know why…

DN – I was going to say what do you think is behind the whole growth in the pop-up cinema…?

JM – It’s a lot easier to do. The fact that someone can watch a Blu-ray in their house, they’ve got 2k resolution transfer on their TV screen, and that alone is a game changer, so effectively what you go and watch in the cinema now at Nova or Astor is the same thing in your living room, most people don’t realise that. Blu-ray is classified as 1080p, 2k is pixels of difference, there’s like no change other than the fact that at a cinema you’re going to get a slightly superior product, but to most people’s eyes there is no difference. With DVD you never would have been able to do that. So that alone has changed people’s mind-set or belief that they can do it.

For me it was the same – the first time I ever blew up a Blu-ray film on a large screen with a projector, when I saw it I was like ‘holy shit this is amazing, why aren’t more people doing this?’ And I think it started because I thought: ok if I can make it look that good here in my house, why the hell can’t I make it look really good for something that I put proper effort into? Build our own screen, get the equipment, find a location, make it comfortable surroundings, why not do it?

I suppose finance is one factor, and we’re still trying to pay back all the money we piled into it…I dunno, I mean on the other side you love it so you tend to turn a blind eye to the costs. So the fact that you can do it is definitely a contributing factor, it’s become a lot easier. I think people from my generation are at that right age where they realise they’ve learned a lot growing up with VHS, Beta, seeing the progression of that to DVD and Blu-ray – being familiar with all those formats and knowing what they can do, and all the technologies associated with those, you have a confidence or a know that you can pull it off. So Shadow Electric, I know that their gear, they’ve been upgrading their gear over time, they get better and louder and bigger, and that’s because two or three years ago they probably identified we can do this, we can find a good location, we can do it a really high quality presentation for the fraction of the cost that it would cost a commercial cinema, so what the hell and they do it. I love seeing these films, and I think that all these cinemas start for the same reason. You realise that you can do it, you can screen the films that you want to see and you want to share that with other people. It’s definitely a sharing thing but there’s self-indulgence. I love these films, you should love them too.

DN – So the movie marathon, is the line-up closely guarded secret? What kind of mix do you have?

JM – You learn a lot. With the first one I did last year it was very much personal favourites. So THX-1138 was a film that I’d never seen on the big screen but I loved, it’s like in my top 3 all-time films of all time. George Lucas’s first film, personally I think it’s amazing, so that was the one most indulgent films I programmed. It’s a combination of that plus putting in films that you hope will bring people along, so there is a little bit of obscurity, or forgotten classics like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers the ‘78 edition. A lot of people hadn’t seen that and probably thought ah ok, but once they’d seen it: holy shit this is great, how could I have not seen this film? The key is blending that with more successful stuff like, I dunno, the Fifth Element. So people know they’ve seen it, they may not have seen it for a while, ‘oh I kinda wanna see that’, and then because they want to see that they’ll get to see all those other films. It’s about creating that right combination of movies, just enough so that people know the titles, and then throwing in some unexpected stuff. That’s a way to get people to come along and then it’s like ‘surprise, here’s a film you haven’t seen before, I hope you enjoy it’.

DN

– So is scheduling quite difficult then?

JM – Sometimes it’s just a film that you wanna see that you haven’t seen for a long time, and you just really wanna see it on a big screen, like The Thing. I love The Thing, seen it a million times, seen it on the big screen several times, but I just wanted to see it again, so what the hell, I’m going to put it on there as well.

This year is a lot more ‘80s focused. Last year’s one was very chronological, two from each decade all the way up to 2012. This year I’m gonna do Planet of the Apes, because it’s just one of those films that been forgotten – a lot of people remember it, but a lot of people haven’t seen it. If you go back and watch it you go ‘oh shit I forgot all this was in here!’ It’s kind of hokey and corny in bits, but there’s a lot of good in that film. When you finish watching it you feel good, you’re glad you saw that film.

That’s a well-known old film that hopefully people will want to see, but on the flipside I’m going to screen something like Fantastic Voyage which most people haven’t seen. I’m tossing up between that and Seconds which is a John Frankenheimer film, black and white 1966 sci-fi horror film. To be honest I would actually programme Inner Space over that, but I can’t source it. Or do I do Dr Strangelove, because that’s a science fiction film, or is it too familiar? It screens everywhere. Do you do that or is it a film where people are like ‘I’ve seen that I don’t want to see it again’, or is it a film that most people think they’ve seen but haven’t actually bothered to watch? And it’s a great film. Still very relevant, very funny, and maybe that’s why it has to be in there.

I’ve submitted a list of about 20 films and out of that I’m gonna pick 11. There’s also John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, a tight little low budget, great ‘80s sci-fi film, with an awesome soundtrack. And that film comes alive on the big screen. The first time I ever saw that was on TV and I didn’t think much of it, but more recently I saw a Blu-ray of it on a really big screen and it just changed the film – this is a film that needs to be screened on a big screen because it’s probably a movie that a lot of people have never seen outside of TV or VHS.

Prince of Darkness is another John Carpenter film that hasn’t screened anywhere so we’ll probably screen that. But do I drop that so I can screen something else, because that’s two john carpenter films? Robocop. The last marathon everyone was like where’s ‘Robocop, where’s Robocop?’ So I’m putting it in this year, that’s just been remastered in 4k as well so we’ll have a really good transfer of that for March. Terminator, the original Terminator. Again I think it’s one of those films I think a lot of people have forgotten. It’s very different; I still think it’s the best of the series. It’s scary, tight, not one single unnecessary scene, a beautiful James Cameron movie, just like aliens. So just getting some of those familiar titles and mixing in other films that people have never heard of, like Mr Nobody which is 2009 sci-fi film, which I’m gonna get on there and hopefully that’ll be received well as it’s a great sci-fi film. Moon, a good thinking man’s sci-fi. Stargate. That’s going back to Valhalla days; they used to put that on all their sci-fi marathons. So sometimes you have to have those films, just a good B-movie.

DN

– So obviously you’re very cult focused, but what about newer things?

JM – Because it’s going to be fortnightly screening, the micro-cinema will need to be newer stuff. Because what I do is classified as non-theatrical we don’t get access to new titles when the big players get it, we’ll get it two or three months after release. So yes, I guess, but it’ll always be a bit after. Then again, I’m thinking by the time the cinema open we might put on a 3d screening of gravity, because everyone going on about gravity, and the space is quite small but the screen fits the entire width of the space so it’ll be quite immersive. You could almost call that a new title.

DN

–  What have you got planned for the future?

JM – We’ve just shut down for the minute with the drive-ins because there’s a lot of outdoor cinema noise – there’s quite a lot going on in that space. February was spent working on the micro-cinema and getting that happening, March will be the sci-fi and I reckon April will be the next drive-in. We want to do drive-ins in the colder months. It’s something you can do on a colder night, you’re in your car, bring a blanket. If it’s stinking hot you don’t really want to be in a car. Again, we’re trying to figure out what works with the drive-in format, but there’ll be more this year, its abut finding the right location, the right people to help us make that happen, and getting access to gear.

One of the things we want to do is buy a very big inflatable screen so we don’t have to project somewhere with a big white surface, which is what we’ve been lucky to have in the Genovese location, but we want the flexibility of being able to move elsewhere and bring the food trucks along with us. It’s trying to figure out how that’s all going to work.

We’ll probably do another marathon before the year is out, probably in September. Sci-fi seems to be the most popular and well received genre, it’s more accessible. We found horror to be a lot harder to sell; people categorise themselves as being scared by horror films but a lot of our horror films weren’t really scary films, there were just creepy, some of them of quite funny. It might be a sci-fi horror combination.

Its tricky programming films, films that people want to see. It can be a bit deflating as well when there’s a film you absolutely love and people just don’t respond. THX11-38was a bit like that, it was straight down the line, people loved it, or they were like what the fuck was that? I love it for so many reason. It’s always interesting to get peoples feedback on films you almost think you own because you’ve seen them so many times, you saw them such a long time ago and have seen them so many times since and your love just grows every time. Blade Runner and Back To The Future are other titles that I love but just won’t screen because I’m worried about how it’ll go over. My top three films of all time are Blade Runner, THX-1138 and Back To The Future, but I refused to screen two of them at the last one because I could only handle the emotional damage of one being projected there.

I dunno what the future holds beyond June, July, it’s very malleable. I mean I didn’t know I’d be doing drive-ins 4 or 5 months after the marathon. If you talk to someone for long enough about a topic they’ll say why don’t you just do it, and you think I’m not really sure how’ll I’ll do it, you just make it happen. That’s the other thing, one of these guys we knew had the attitude that no one’s really told me I can’t do it ,so I’ll see if I can do it, and if it works, great, and if not, at least you tried, and no one really got hurt in the process. It kind of comes back to that, sharing those things you love with people and hoping they like it too and then they’ll tell people and they’ll go and watch them.

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