There is no other organization in Los Angeles that is more dedicated to the art and culture of film than Cinefamily. The Silent Movie Theatre based nonprofit is one of those things that always seems to have existed, quietly in the background of their Fairfax South of Melrose location. You’d assume that they’ve been screening and celebrating the obscure movies since the Méliès brothers and Cecil B. DeMille were still big names in the industry. What’s most surprising is that they are one of a very small handful of alternative film resources in town, a shock considering they are based and founded in a city who owes much of its success to the movies.
Hadrian Belove leans into the backyard bar of Cinefamily, smoking a cigarette and gazing at a bougainvillea covered fence. He is the organization’s current Executive Director and one of the cofounders: he is the family’s father figure. If you’ve ever been to Cinefamily or are on any of their email lists, his name is familiar and likely fills your mental scavenger hunt blank for “Person You’ve Met Who Knows The Most About Movies.”
He’s a cool guy with a very dry, rugged feeling about him. He has a relaxed seriousness and is on a very tight schedule like all fathers. He’s one of those people you have to catch on his way to or from a meeting since his job requires him to always be on the go: this is exactly why he could only talk during an elongated smoke break.
“This town is full of people who love movies and that’s great,” he says, taking a drag. “How many other company towns is the industry art? Even if it is commercialized, it’s still art. It’s more than film too as we have music and the Internet and books and fine art in Los Angeles. They all have very strong worlds here–and that was a big part of cutting my teeth growing up here.”
Hadrian grew up in Los Angeles, for the most part. He came of age amongst filmmaking and has always had some sort of connection to the film community. “I came out here when I was five in classic late seventies, early eighties divorced mom style. I’ve been here basically since then but I would always go back and visit my dad on the East coast. I never expected to be here my whole life–but I kept doing things that were particularly anchored to this city.”
He gives an example. “When I was twenty-three, I started a video store with some friends and it became apparent after a little while that it wasn’t a job that you could move from. It was something where you have to be some place for a while, acting as a civic leader or, at least, someone who is entrenched in a community.”
“What’s funny about this is that you can grow up in LA and never really leave your neighborhood,” he adds. “I lived in Torrance and Glendale and, eventually, West LA–and I didn’t even know the basics of LA geography and what was going on. I didn’t go to Silver Lake or Echo Park unless there was some random party. I don’t think I was particularly proud or fond of LA at that time either. My impression of it was basically West LA which isn’t a bad place–but it doesn’t feel like you are in a city like New York City.”
Hadrian eventually realized that if he had to stay in Los Angeles then he might as well learn to like the place. This plan actually worked and set into motion what would eventually become Cinefamily. “I made an active decision to love it and to dive in and start to travel within the city. I don’t know if you remember Thomas Guides but I would fantasize, pre-Google Maps, that I’d put a Thomas Guide on my wall–like wallpaper–and throw darts to make me go to random neighborhoods.”
“What I ended up doing is find reasons to go to new restaurants in random areas, which gave me excuses for having to go to Highland Park or Monterrey Park or Artesia, wherever. What was great about this is that you learn very quickly that LA is so vast and expansive–you just have to engage it. It’s all there, waiting for you. You can choose to stay in your bubble, in your neighborhood, and it will seem like there’s not a lot going on. Everything is going on! There’s all kinds of culture and parallel universes that don’t coincide with your part of town.”
“Once I had fallen in love with LA and had made an active choice to do so, I got to found Cinefamily with Dan and Sammy Harkham. I had a huge desire with our mission statement to think of the place as a cultural center, a classic cafe like a City Lights was in San Francisco or Shakespeare & Company in Paris. Towns like these need meccas and meeting points.”
Hadrian also wanted to use Cinefamily as a way to connect and engage various cultures in the city. The organization is about film, yes, but also the contemporary intellectual landscape of Los Angeles. “The way that we program enables us to work with lots of outside institutions, letting them have pop ups here. We have people like Dublab here and Los Angeles Film Forum on another night or Cinespia or Don’t Knock The Rock. We cover everything from film to foodies to skaters and more: each time you come here, it’s something new.”
Moreover, Cinefamily isn’t about film people but communities and how film can bring them together. Film serve as a bonding tool and foster shared communal experiences. Each visit to Cinefamily enforces this–and becoming a member introduces you to an entirely new community too. “What’s nice about our member program is that there are regulars who start to bump into each other. You start to see LA crash into itself and see interesting things happen. At its best, I think Cinefamily is like that. It sort of reminds people that LA is a great place. The highest compliments I’ve gotten have been people telling me that Cinefamily is one of the reasons that they haven’t moved away from LA or that it is the reason that they wanted to move here.”
“That’s the greatest compliment you can get,” he says with a chuckle, switching over to a new cigarette.
“When we first opened, I got a letter from a friend who is a film buff in New York who said the New York hipsterati were smitten with our programs. To actually hear that anyone in New York in any way had a level of jealousy for Los Angeles–a place that is usually the whipping boy–was really an LA ‘represent’ moment for me.”
“In a lot of ways, Cinefamily is an expression of my love for this city,” he says. “I think that’s right there in our mission statement or in early interviews we did, too. We were pretty explicit about that connection.”
That connection is pretty easy, too. If you live in Los Angeles and love Los Angeles, you have some sort of awareness of the entertainment industry and how powerful it can be. It’s a huge part of our city’s culture and Cinefamily embraces it with open arms. “Being interested in film and movies is very natural if you are from here. It is a big part of our company town. It’s is the source of the money river from which all tributaries flow–even if you are a plumber, you’re the plumber to the stars!”
“It normalizes the industry and makes it less about talent fucking: the people who make movies are our local talent. If you were in Austin’s or somewhere running a community theatre, you’d have your local actors too. It just happens that ours are these incredible people who come from around the world to demonstrate their talents on a national or international level. If Greg Turkington stops by at a TV Tuesday, or Tim & Eric show a new short film they make here, that isn’t strange: they are our local filmmakers. And it’s so wide ranging too: these locals can be an editor or a musician or whoever.”
“People from out of town often ask how we get these big name people to do stuff and I always tell them our special guest usually started as patrons. When Stephin Merritt did our telethon, it was because he’s a regular. He comes and watches silent films and eats cupcakes. It was normal to ask him if he wanted to sing a couple songs for the event. That didn’t feel weird or different to do–and that’s really cool.”
Hadrian feels that the institution that he (co-)steers has helped influenced the city in some way. If anything, it adds to the positive, supportive creative environment people love about Los Angeles. “Maybe because the arts are so local and maybe because of all the years of us being being told we live in a shallow town has lead to an unpretentious humility, oddly. It’s become quite the opposite of what people think of and, as a result, there a kind of intelligence mixed with warmth that I see a lot. Things like Family and The Smell and Cinefamily itself are very positive and celebratory.”
“A lot of times great big cities can be competitive in a cutthroat way, where you always have to be smart and edgy. Los Angeles has a lot of people who are smart and friendly. We have our standards and our tastes but we are very much a celebratory institution. We’re generous and welcoming while maintaining an idea of, ‘This is what we like and think is good.’ We are all about sharing. I think that has always been part of the LA zeitgeist.”
“Maybe we’ve had some influence on the city in that way?” he asks. “We like the freedom to mix things up and not make a big deal out of it, which I see more and more.”
Hadrian and Cinefamily want to expand what they’re doing and continue to better what they have. He wants to see them–and can see them–becoming the West coast authority on new, innovative, and obscure films. No one else has done that and he sees that as something Cinefamily has the potential to do.
“I don’t know what’s next for us,” he says. “But I do know that Cinefamily probably needs the ability to show more films on more screens in order to complete its mission as being the premiere local meeting place for film and talent. I still feel like LA doesn’t have anything equivalent to Film Forum in New York, a place where film can land and disseminate. In the center of Los Angeles, there’s really not a lot of art cinema institutions. It’s a really hard nut to crack. I’d like to be a part of that.”
“There’s a lot of little things too: we just got a new projector and new seats. I hope someday to have a beer and wine list and to do more events off site, at other institutions so that Cinefamily becomes more than just a specific place and more about beliefs and aesthetics that can go anywhere. I take great pleasure in the little things, like having a show at the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre.”
He nears the end of his cigarette, putting it out in a small tray. “Keep in mind, we’re only five years old,” he says. “As we become a larger and more stable institution, we can begin to trickle down and help other institutions. When you support Cinefamily, you support LA culture.”
For more on Hadrian and Cinefamily, be sure to check out their website, follow them on Twitter, and Like them on Facebook. They are always having screenings and events, which you can see here. We also highly recommend you become a member of Cinefamily: learn more about that here.