Issue #014 Published: 11-09-2017 // Written by: AA + Matt and Jen

Cinema of the dam’d

End of September the OT301 cinema re-opens its doors after a small break. The new collective that}ll be running the cinema and bar is called ‘Cinema of the Dam’d’. We’ve spoken to Matt and Jen from the collective to learn more about their project.

When did the Cinema of the Dam’d project start?
Matt held his first screening at the OT301 cinema as a guest programmer three years ago. It was a double feature of obscure 70s horror films called “Oedipus Wrecks” about creepy men/children. During the break between the movies, he came out and did a striptease in a creepy baby mask. There were about 14 people in the audience. It was a very strange, but appropriate debut. 

We met later that year and realized that we shared a lot of the same sensibilities about film and performance, and also had very complementary tastes. When we first started hanging out, we were constantly showing each other our favorite movies. Eventually we wanted to show them to others. So we started programming together and hosted movie nights at various underground venues in Amsterdam, including a farm, a bunker and canal cruise boat. Recently, our friend Jacopo has joined us in programming and launching the cinema. 

Why is it called Cinema of the Dam’d?
First of all, we love puns, so “Dam’d“ is simply a reference to “Amsterdam.” But we also chose it because we show “damned” films. Underrated, obscure, overlooked or just plain odd movies that have fallen through the cracks, been forgotten or cursed by the money-driven film industry. We are particularly interested in films that have never been released in the Netherlands. “Damned” also refers to the subject matter of the movies we tend to like best, stories about misfits, weirdos and outsiders. So, the name has many meanings for us.

What kind of films/events will you program?
There is no typical film program. On any given night you might see a kung-fu classic, an undistributed indie, a political documentary, rare music videos, X-rated cartoons, cat videos, old Hollywood trash or a 70s TV movie. There are always short films, trailers and other surprises. 

We choose themes for our programs instead of selecting by country, director, or genre, which is the norm. This is a more flexible and playful way to show movies and it allows them to be seen in new ways. We also like to combine “high” or arthouse film with “low” or genre cinema. For example, last year at a symposium on the apocalypse, we screened a double feature called “Love at the End of the World” in which we showed Tsai Ming Liang’s beautiful sci-fi romance The Hole alongside the quirky American thriller Miracle Mile. Both of these films are terrific and almost never screened in cinemas, much less together.  

What is your background?
Matt is originally from San Francisco and Los Angeles, where he got experience as a film festival programmer, movie critic and theater manager. He still works each summer for the Sundance Film Festival. He’s also (slowly) working on a PhD at the University of Amsterdam. I am from Detroit and Philadelphia and have a background as a librarian. I am a cinephile with deep knowledge and love for genre films and exploitation cinema. I am also a noise musician. Most importantly, like many young Americans, our first jobs were working behind cinema snack bars. So, we’re more than qualified. 

When will you open your doors at the OT301? Ooh, and why are you at the OT301 now? 
We are planning to open the cinema doors on Sunday, September 24th with a daylong marathon of free movies. We joined the OT301 collective, because we have been active here for almost four years and we love the creative community. We recently moved a couple blocks away from the building, so this is our neighborhood, our home. Most of all, we love the cinema at OT301. As the screening room for the former film academy, it has a ton of history. Its screen is bigger than those at many fancier Cineville theaters. So we see an opportunity to bring some fresh energy and ideas to the cinema, because we think it’s an important part of OT301’s history and of Amsterdam underground film culture. 

What can we expect from the Cinema of the Dam’d?
First, we are putting a lot of love into the space. We tore out two layers of carpet and put in a fresh one. We’ve also improved the lighting and sound, and changed the seating. On the programming side, you can expect more special events, including silent films with live accompaniment, “slumber party” sleepovers and  rainy day Sunday “hangover” matinees. We’ll also host regular guest programmers and Q&A’s/screenings with visiting indie filmmakers.  

Will the Cinema of the Dam’d be different then other cinema’s?
We hope so! Besides our unique style of programming, we really want to bring a sense of fun and community to the cinema experience. This means doing things differently than other theaters. People should feel at home when they’re in our cinema. Though we’re Americans, we hope we understand what gezellig means and feels like. So we’ve got a few rows of traditional movie seats, but we’re also going to have couches and beanbags if you want to get more comfortable. Also, you know how the Eye won’t let you go to a movie if you show up 5 minutes late? We think that’s silly. It’s not church! At Cinema of the Dam’d, you can show up or leave whenever you feel like it. In our bar, we want to cultivate a space where people can have pre-and post-film discussions. So we’ll have a large communal table to encourage this sense of community. Finally, we’re bringing our lifelong expertise to the snack bar by serving freshly-popped popcorn. 

What do you think about underground cinema in Amsterdam?
Since we both love movies and come from DIY subcultures, underground cinema has been an essential part of our lives. In contrast to mainstream or “official” film culture, these screenings are vital sites of connection and discovery. Underground cinema audiences tend to be international, curious and deeply engaged with movies. It’s a community driven by a love for films as an art form, not by market demands or cultural trends. At its best, this community introduces audiences to new films and supports new talent, while also reviving older films that can bring insight to contemporary culture. Films, like any piece of art, are not static. Though they are rooted in history, they can also come alive in new ways and take on new meanings. This requires thoughtful programming and adventurous audiences. Amsterdam has both. 

What would be your dreams for this project?
We’d like to spend the first year making technical improvements to the cinema and bar, while building a bigger audience for the film programs at OT301. We also want to work closely with guest programmers to expand the breadth and diversity of the films we show and the audiences we can reach. 

Finally, we’d like to be able to premiere new undistributed films that would otherwise never screen in Amsterdam. For instance, last year, we partnered with TranScreen for the Amsterdam premiere of the American indie Tangerine.  Even though the film was already on Netflix, the event was a huge success. 

What kind of events have been planned for the coming months?
We’ll open on Sunday, September 24th with a day of free programming. Then, we’ll start rolling out our first thematic programs. We’re planning a program called “Teen Peaks,” with films featuring actors from Twin Peaks when they were young. Since the new series deals with aging, our program rediscovers the babyfaced early films of Laura Dern, Sherilyn Fenn and Kyle Maclachlan. These films are all special and rarely shown. Even if you’re not a Lynch fan, we think you’ll love them. Also, in honor of the late George Romero, who invented the modern zombie genre, we’re presenting “Zombies with Braaaains” a program of non-traditional zombie films that use the genre for thoughtful social critique. Finally, our favorite event happens on Friday, October 27th. It’s the third annual “Halloween Horror Movie Marathon,” a top-secret program of horror movies and short films, running from sundown to sunrise. We’ll haunt the theater, keep the coffee brewing and throw a costume contest at midnight for those that are  feeling festive. If you like horror movies, dressing in costume or are just an insomniac, we want you to come.  

If folks are interested, they can check out our website at cinemaofthedamd.nl.
Photo: Cinema of the dam’d