Around the Art House: 35mm at the Trylon Cinema

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Screening films six nights a week, the formerly micro Trylon Cinema in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, MN opened in 2009 and expanded in 2017 to its current 90 seat capacity. They host classic and repertory series regularly with themes including Reaganland: 1980s Dystopia, Robert Bresson: Transcendence and Austerity and Majesty in Monochrome: Black and White Cinemascope. The Trylon also regularly goes on location to host screenings at the city’s historic Heights and Riverview theaters including the Minneapolis Hitchcock Festival. The 1926 Beaux Arts Heights Theater can project 35mm and 70mm and the Trylon regularly presents 35mm, believing that “35mm film has a warmth and feel that should be part of the moviegoing experience, just like the real butter on our popcorn.” Most nights you can find Cinema Manager and expert film handler Nikki Weispfenning behind the projector threading, winding, and ensuring the excellent presentation of prints ranging from archival gems to faded cult classics. Here, Managing Director Alison Kozberg asks Nikki questions about life in the booth.

Nikki, you are a 35mm projectionist. How did you learn to handle film?
I learned to project when I was living in New York. I worked box office and concessions at the Sunshine Cinema (which closed in 2018) — after a couple years they promoted me to shift manager, which involved projecting. At the time, every theater had at least one union projectionist. The Sunshine’s was Joe Lynch and he taught me how to thread projectors. I followed him around for a few shifts and I ran one film – this was in 2003. But then I moved to DC for a year and didn’t work in a theater again until I moved back to Minneapolis in 2007. A couple people I knew were helping to reopen the Parkway Theater, so I started there as a part-time projectionist. And once I was at the Parkway, I learned everything I didn’t know very quickly on the job. I started working at the Trylon in 2011.

Tell me a bit about the Trylon.
The Trylon Cinema is a 501c3 nonprofit. We only have three employees including me and John Moret our programmer, as well as amazing volunteers including our Executive Director. It is a one screen theater and one of my favorite places in the world. Our programming is almost entirely repertory, with the exception of Sound Unseen (usually music documentaries). We have presented films by the Shaw Brothers on 35mm, as well as series on Kobayashi, Cocteau, Ava Gardner, and Warren Oates.

Let’s talk about prints.
In the 35mm vs. digital debate, I almost always land in favor of film. Prints can be really memorable, just because of weird little things going on with them. Film can be more challenging and is definitely more work, but it is more fun! When something goes wrong with film I am much more likely to be able to fix the problem in a timely manner. When the film breaks, you fix it and are going again in 90 seconds! When a server loses power, you are down for at least 10 minutes and it is nerve-wracking.

I like pristine prints and I like grittier ones — they both have their place. We showed a print of Bergman’s Shame that was one of the best prints I have ever seen — just amazing. It was my first time watching that movie, and the print was so gorgeous that it definitely made me appreciate that movie more than if I had seen it under less ideal circumstances. But on the other hand, the print of Wild At Heart we showed last month is the same one we showed a couple years ago and it is a bit beat up  — which seems perfect for that movie… I love that movie, but it has a trashy vibe that is enhanced by a few scratches.

What kind of projectors does the Trylon have?
For 35mm we have two Century model SAs. We only run 2000 ft reels (some booths run from platters or from 6000 ft reels). Every 15-20 minutes a projectionist is threading, watching for cue marks, and making the changeover between the two projectors.

What is your favorite film that you have projected?
My favorite film to project is Hausu. We show it every year at the Trylon, last year we only had four screenings, but some years we’ve had as many as nine. I’ve only seen it twice, but I’ve projected it more than any other film.

The Trylon used to have a series in which programmers defended films that are generally hated, is there a film that you would like to defend?
My defenders pick would either be Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights or Gleaming the Cube.

You introduced me to a game in which one selects their favorite film for every year of their life. What are your favorite films from 1984, 1996, and 2002?
1984: Streets of Fire
1996: Irma Vep
2002: Esther Kahn