XIE 1: The office at Metrograph is filled with cardboard boxes and stacks of film reels. It is one hour until the first screening, and Aliza Ma takes stock of what’s going on around her.
MA: Well, it’s bedlam [laughs] at first sight, but there is order to this chaos. Our offices are buzzing with excitement because we’re opening for the first time to the public.
XIE: This opening is six years in the making. That’s when filmmaker Alexander Olch started looking for a place to build a 1920s-style, art-house theater. He found it at a former warehouse on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side. There are 175 velvet seats made of reclaimed wood from Brooklyn. The building looks like a big box made of orange bricks, but there is nothing big-box about what they’re showing.
MA: As a place for cinema, we want to help and do our part in preserving the material that cinema is literally comprised of.
XIE: She’s talking about the strips of film that get threaded through a projector. For Ma, this adds something special to the viewing experience.
MA: It’s sort of almost an invisible performance behind you in the projection room.
XIE: Karen Cooper says this sort of cinema has been dwindling in the United States, especially in smaller towns. She’s served as director of Manhattan’s Film Forum since the early 1970s.
COOPER: I mean, we still have movie theaters in malls and multiplexes, but the independent theater in that sense is endangered.
XIE: Metrograph’s owners are hoping that isn’t the case in New York City. The venue has its own restaurant and candy store. But at the end of the day, it’s about the film. That’s why visitors like Peter Rinaldi have come to the Metrograph…
RINALDI: The first screening happens to be Taxi Driver.
XIE: An iconic New York film at Manhattan’s newest independent theater. Suzie Xie, Columbia Radio News.