Los Angeles

Cinefamily and the Fine Art of the 24-Hour Telethon

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

When Cinefamily does a Telethon, there are no mistakes -- only stories yet to tell.

For the third year, Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon -- riddled with stars and shot through with cinematic entertainment of every stripe -- will, from 1 p.m. on December 14, through 1 p.m. the following day, operate non-stop for 24 hours at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue, heroically unveiling once-in-a-lifetime movie-going experiences.

Scheduled are interviews with Anjelica Huston, Miranda July, and Ileana Douglas; game-show reminiscences by Shadoe "Fred Rated" Stevens; comedy from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim; the found-footage ecstasies of Mike Judge, and a séance with magician Rob Zabrecky. Director Bruce Bickford appears in person, screening his 45-minute stop-motion clay animated film "CAS'L" scored live by Gaslamp Killer, and there are tributes to director Les Blank and critic Roger Ebert. There are also a few firsts: Seattle drone metal band Earth performs live to Werner Herzog's 1971 creation-myth meditation "Fata Morgana" -- apparently something that even Herzog's longtime musical collaborators Popol Vuh never did -- and lunch with actor Bruce Dern, who receives the inaugural Cinefamily Lifetime Achievement Award. All of this is absolutely free - first come, first served.

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

Cinefamily is that rare movie theatre around which a community has sprung up. See a movie at Cinefamily and you're just as likely to sit next to people dressed up like the characters in that movie. In the finest tradition of movie theatres, there are often lines down the block vying for one of the 224 seats at screenings that are often packed to capacity. Part revival theatre, part art-house and all welcoming, theirs' is a regular intersection of film, art, music, obsession and compulsion. Cinefamily has even appeared as a location in the "Missed Connections" section of Craigslist - and at its essence, Cinefamily is completely about making connections. It's the kind of place where kinships are forged and all-night screenings - complete with pillows and blankets for those who haven't claimed the lush plush sofas in front - are a regular occurrence.

Occurrence. A better word for it might be happening.

And yet, despite the nature of the event -- and all the wonders that it contains -- this Telethon is not there to guilt you out. It's a happening, a one-time only event that borders on being an art piece itself.

It is in fact a living, breathing showcase for the fine and inestimable work Cinefamily does on behalf of cinema year -- in and year-out -- and the raising of funds to cover the operating costs. The Telethon's production and events are donated by its participants and volunteers -- some of whom have been around since Cinefamily's beginning.

For Claire Evans of YΔCHT, her Cinefamily experience began when she moved to L.A. two years ago. "I attended a double feature of Chaplin's The Circus and Tati's Cirque, she recalls. "Before the movie, a programmer came out before the (very) small audience and gave a funny, insightful, and illuminating synopsis of the two directors' careers. I thought, 'This is no ordinary movie theater'."

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

She first got involved with the Telethon after she and her bandmate created a short program of experimental films, all centered on the sun, that were screened to the Telethon audience at dawn. "We did yoga in the theatre and led everyone outside to greet the sun after 16+ hours of sleeplessness." This year, as editor-in-chief of the revamped OMNI Magazine, she's presenting video rarities from the magazine's archives. Is losing sleep an inescapable aspect when it comes to creativity? "Absolutely," she admits, adding, "But it takes a special kind of lunatic to attempt to stay awake for 24 hours."

Perhaps the most special kind of lunatic of all is Cinefamily founder Hadrian Belove. Speaking to him amid the hectic electricity of Telethon preparations was another kind of lunacy entirely. Belove realized that the Cinefamily was a community, rather than just another venue. "The night before we opened [in 2007]. We were preparing our mission statement, and I said a lot of things about community, and you can say things about what you hope it turns into, but that can be very abstract. I had ten thousand [film] calendars that I'd printed and they had to be collated by hand. Out of nowhere, 30 or 40 people showed up, collating these calendars, eating pizza and listening to music -- not only did they do that, which was very moving, but they were having a great time. That's when I felt it -- that something really special could happen."

The process that leads up to the Telethon is intense. "It happens incredibly fast -- all in about four to six weeks. It's so complicated; dividing up tasks, seeing who does what. I'm programming on the fly the whole time...it becomes like a beehive around here -- but, a fun beehive." Last year's goals -- a new digital projection system, a sound system upgrade, updating the seats and fixing the roof -- were accomplished with the help of over 1300 backers, including Robert Downey Jr. The stakes are high for the DIY institution. "We're a non-profit that requires support to do the kind of programming that we do. It's really about raising a quarter of our operating costs: $250,000. A healthy non-profit runs on 30-40 percent donations -- we've been operating on far less than that."

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Belove says that eventually Cinefamily has to become an institution, something that lives on outside of his participation. "I must find a way to have it live on, so that if I were hit by a bus, Cinefamily would still continue to be what it is,' he says. "I think we've already come a long way toward that goal. Two or three years ago, if I'd died in a car wreck, I think there would have been no Cinefamily. It might change, like any institution -- different executive directors, different curators -- but I think we've begun to get to a stage where there's a principle that's been set forth that can continue. Now, it's a lot bigger than me. "

Photos graciously provided by Liezl Estipona, Jim Kunz, Amalia Levari, Sarah Soquel Morhaim and Randy Perry.

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic Telethon

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About the Author

David Cotner is a Los Angeles-based writer.
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