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

Jose Maturana is clearly a man that loves films. This is the kind of guy who strings up a sheet in his backyard to project his favourites on to, the kind of guy who would spend his spare time between uni lectures in a movie theatre, and the kind of guy who used the time off after the birth of his third child to start a cinema that runs movie marathons that have ranged from 14 to 24 hours.

We spent a good third of the interview just talking about movies, but when we actually got around to other topics we discussed drive-ins, marathons, cult and sharing the ones you love.

DN – So tell me about the 24 hour sci-fi marathon.

Jose Maturana – I don’t know if you remember the old Valhalla cinema that used to be in Westgarth, a lot of people don’t remember it. Someone might have told you about it. It’s funny, probably about 50% people that come to our screenings will remember the old Valhalla, and 50% don’t, never knew it existed. They used to have the science fiction marathon 6 monthly at the Valhalla, and they would alternate horror with horror/sci-fi. Science fiction is probably my favourite genre, so that’s why [we’ve brought it back]. That was the main motivation behind this, bringing the name back, help it live on and doing the 24hr marathons. So that was the first event we did last year – 24hr, awesome, sold-out, awesome vibe, just really good fun, people really related to it.

DN – Did people just come and go, or did they stay the whole time?

JM – There was probably about 10 people in total who made it through from first film to last film. At its peak there were 60 to 70 people there, with a good chunk of people from noon on the first day through to about midnight. The way I used to do it, because I used to go to the old Valhalla when I was a university student, was to kind of check in for a few films, and then go away and come back. But then you had the real hardcore people who would turn up with sleeping bags, pillows. We had a lot of those, so that was good. They were in it for the long haul. I was pretty destroyed at the end of it. And I’d programmed it so that there were a couple of more emotional films at the end too, so if you were in a bad state, then this would just tip you over the edge.

DN– So this year, how long have you been going? When did you start?

JM – The official start date is April 1st 2013, of the new Valhalla. Prior to that I was doing private screenings, bit of a hobby, and the sci-fi marathon was June, so our first public event was June 6th/7th.

DN– So this is only your second year?

JM – We’re still effectively in our first year if you date it from April 1st. From the marathon we started getting into other things like the drive-ins, which we were doing a lot of last year, shorter double/triple bills, and even some private screenings. I guess anyone who runs this type of thing gets into private screenings. We’ve done a few collaborations with Fixed, which is a cycling group here in Melbourne, screening some pretty cheesy 80s cycling films like quicksilver, and they’re really good fun. I think this year we’re moving more from being like really portable and setting up in lots of different locations, to this micro-cinema project that we’re working on in North Melbourne.


– Do you want to talk a bit more about that?

JM – Well we’ve got everything, now it’s just a matter of putting it together. Regular fortnightly screenings throughout the year, so there won’t really be a season anymore, it’ll just be a minimum every two weeks screening at this location in North Melbourne where we had our sci-fi marathon, the Electron Workshop. We’re fitting out a section of the workshop, cos it’s actually a co-working space, during the week, and we’re gonna divide off the working space and there’ll be a 36 seater micro-cinema with a 4.5 metre wide screen, so it’s still quite large, with comfortable deckchairs, a bar. It’s just as a bit of an experiment to see how we go with that format, but still very cult focused. Because North Melbourne doesn’t really have a cinema of its own we’re gonna do some newer, not just obscure cult films as well. The programme’s still being worked out and I don’t know when we’re gonna open it but ideally February/March. I think the sci-fi marathon, the next one in March, will be in the same location and most of the bones of the micro-cinema


– How long had you been thinking about doing this? What pushed you to do it?will be there, but that’ll be an expanded format cos that needs to fit more than 36 people, it needs at least 60-70 people. It’s very niche, but yeah, good people, good crowd, people who really love science fiction films or just movies in general.

JM – It goes back to the marathon. I was a longing for the marathon to come back, that I’ve had for years, and I kind of got sick of waiting around for someone to do it. So our third child was born, and I had some time off prior to him being born, so I was just thinking why the hell not, and that was it, I thought ‘I’m gonna do the marathon, do that, and nothing else’, and at other peoples pushing and insistence and urging we started doing other things.

It’s really just evolved out of doing that marathon and love of film and a love of other genres, and wanting to screen the films that I want to see in the cinema. The Astor kind of covers some of that but not entirely. As much as I like the Rooftop and Shadow Electric and their programming of cult films, it’s still kind of like mainstream cult. So if I wanna go and see a film like Seconds from 1966 or Fantastic Voyage, those kinds of films don’t come up. So I’m trying to put them in a format where people can see those. That’s why the drive-in line ups tended to be very obscure mixed with a very well-known film.


– And you’ve found people have responded and that’s why you’ve expanded?

JM – Yeah. The feedbacks always great so that’s probably been the main motivator. To be honest there’s no money. I haven’t figured out a way to make money out of this, it’s really just about screening those films that I haven’t seen on a big screen in a very long time, or never seen on a big screen. So there’s definitely a bit of a selfish, self-involved motivation there as well. I think we’re filling a very small niche in Melbourne at the moment and that’s why I do it, coupled with the fact that I wanna see these films. I love watching films on the big screen, but it’s really hard to see certain films on the big screen.


– How have you coped with the difficulty of obtaining certain films?

JM – I will only screen films that I can source digitally, and that does limit me somewhat. But at the same time there’s a lot of films being reissued, getting 4k and 2k remasters. I’m a massive John Carpenter fan and pretty much all of his library has now been remastered or retransferred to 2k so obtaining that sort of stuff makes my life easy.

I think there’s an alignment of that sort of stuff happening with the democratisation of the technology, so it’s pretty accessible. So if you know what you’re doing, you’re technically inclined and love film it’s an attainable thing to screen these kinds of films. But it does go back to the reliance on the film being released digitally. You’re kind of limited to that pool, but it’s a pretty big pool, especially with cult. A film like Lifeforce, that was released last year in 2k format, and that is a film that not many people would know about, and when you screen it it’s like you’re opening it up to a new audience. Again, it’s a very personal thing. A film like The Monster Squad from ‘87, as a kid I loved that film but I know a lot of people haven’t seen it, so I’ll wanna screen it – I’ll see if I can obtain it in a digital format, tick yes it is, or it was released last year or the year before, and it goes on the shortlist for future screenings, I dunno when I’m gonna do it, but that list gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And thankfully there are a lot of really good, old cult films that are available in really good digital edition. LikeChristine, I got that for the drive in last year and that hadn’t been screened anywhere for years. The last time I saw it was on TV, so when that came up I snapped it up and it projected beautifully at the drive-in. It’s just luck. It’s got to coincide with your desire to screen a certain film and that film being available. But there are certain films that you can’t get and you either get the 35mm or 16mm and then you have to figure out a way to project on those technologies, but I haven’t yet.


– How important is the community aspect for you? Providing a cinema for North Melbourne, and also creating a community of film-goers? Bringing that community aspect back to cinema?

JM – Yeah that’s a huge part of it. We do have regulars now which is nice, it’s nice to think that there are regular people that I see at all the screenings. Some people have been to every one we’ve had, and it’s great to catch up with them and chat about films. They’re there for the same reason I started it up, they love these films, they want to see them on a big screen. Some people will come just for the drive-in, and then they’ll keep coming back because they love, they enjoy the drive-in experience. So it’s about generating and maintaining that community, it’s about providing new ways to see films.

When I say new though it’s not really new, it’s a format that died 10 or 15 years ago. At the moment the only official drive-ins in Melbourne are the Coburg drive-in and they’ll do a lot of new releases and family films, there’s one in Dandenong, but again, they don’t screen the films that I want to see in drive-in format. So that’s why we’ll go out and do our own, we’ll find the right partners so that we can screen them in a good location, like Genovese Coffee in Brunswick. Again trying to expose people to a film they may not have seen in an environment they may never have been to beforehand. For me it’s a very familiar environment, I grew up watching films in the drive-in, and a lot of 80s films, which is why we tend to programme a lot of 80s films for the drive-in – it’s about capturing a bit of that magic again and hopefully people wanting to come along for the experience.

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