On with the show

Amy Cinecenta
Program coordinator Amy Anderson, BFA ’21, has big plans for the Cinecenta’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Photo Michael Kissinger

Program coordinator Amy Anderson talks movies, the return of in-person screenings and the secret to Cinecenta’s ‘damn fine popcorn’

Cinecenta program coordinator Amy Anderson, BFA ’21, is not what you’d call an overnight sensation. She paid her dues in the buttery trenches of UVic’s movie theatre Munchie Bar and ripped tickets as a box office cashier when she was 17 years old. A year later, she moved up the ranks to projectionist while still pulling Munchie Bar duty for the rest of her undergrad. She then worked as the assistant to long-time Cinecenta programmer Michael Hoppe, BA ’77, and took over the role in the fall of 2019 when he retired, just in time to weather the pandemic and oversee a tumultuous year of online-only screenings. This September, the Cinecenta returned to in-person screenings, and not a moment too soon. As the venerable campus cinema heads into its 50th year of operation, Anderson took time from her busy schedule to talk film, guilty movie pleasures and the secret behind the Cinecenta’s famously “damn fine popcorn.”

Q. Without getting too much into the weeds, what does a program coordinator do?

AA: A programmer coordinator (or programmer) curates a selection of films, usually for a film festival or a movie theatre. When people ask what I do at Cinecenta I usually just say “I pick the movies!” And that’s the gist of it, really. But there are other less exciting administrative and marketing aspects involved in the job as well. 

Q. Cinecenta returned to in-person screenings for the first time since November 2020. What have been some of the biggest challenges getting to this point?

AA: I think the manager and I felt a little worried that people might have forgotten about Cinecenta—the theatre has never been closed for this long since it first opened back in the ’70s! So far that doesn’t seem to be the case, though. We’ve got some loyal customers out there, which we’re really grateful for. And, just like every business right now, it’s been challenging keeping up with changing COVID protocols and regulations, just trying to make sure that everyone feels as safe as possible when coming to a movie. 

Q. Is it more difficult programming a season of in-person screenings or a season of virtual screenings?

AA: The two formats are so different that it often felt like a completely different job! With the virtual screenings there was just much less available, and most of the difficulty came from the lack of variety and various financial/technological logistics that arose. But on the other hand, one doesn’t have the stress of making sure that a film will physically arrive in time for an in-person screening, and there’s no worry about shipping a film back out again, box office paperwork etc, etc. So in many ways virtual cinema is a lot simpler. But I much prefer programming the in-person screenings since there is much more to choose from, and you can never beat that movie theatre magic.

cinecenta lobby
Amy Anderson says the secret to Cinecenta's beloved popcorn is "real butter, nutritional yeast and a little bit of love." Photo Michael Kissinger 

Q. It’s a precarious time for film, with much of the industry embracing streaming services and big budget super hero movies dominating the big screen releases. Where do you see Cinecenta’s place in all of this?

AA: I’m optimistic about it all, not just because I have to be, but because I want to be! I think that for a lot of us the pandemic has reiterated the importance of communal experiences. Going out to a movie is not just about the movie, what happens before and after the movie can be just as important; seeing your friends, going to dinner, debriefing the movie afterwards… I think people are going to continue to see the value in those experiences that they can’t get by watching a movie at home. 

Q. What are some of your personal favourites when it comes to film?

AA: I’ll always have a soft spot for Paris, Texas, and I’m a fan of early Jim Jarmusch. Dawson City, Frozen Time is another one I’ll name. It’s a documentary about all of these discarded film reels from the Gold Rush era that were found buried in Dawson City. The filmmakers digitized the reels and you get to see all of this early cinema that otherwise would’ve been lost forever. The footage is so haunting and beautiful, and it really illustrates what I love about film so much. I think that the moving image is probably the closest thing we have to a form of time travel—it’s sort of a direct window into the past where you get to see what would’ve otherwise just been lost in time.

Q. What movie, good or bad, have you seen the most times?

AA: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. I first saw it when I was very young—my mom was actually watching it because she was writing a paper on it for a film studies class. I don’t know what it was about the movie that struck me so much at the time, I was probably mesmerized by the glamour of the women and also confused/intrigued by the story. I still watch it as an adult since now I can appreciate observing it through a gendered/social lens, it feels very representative of certain aspects of that time period (1953). Plus my mom and I can recite all the best lines by heart. 

Q. Do you have a guilty movie pleasure?

AA: I have so many. But the one I’ll admit to is the 1986 film adaptation of the play Crimes of the Heart. It’s basically just Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek having a meltdown in Mississippi accents for 104 minutes. It’s so over the top, I love it. 

Q. When programming movie screenings, how do you balance personal favourites with what you think audiences will go see and also what’s available?

AA: That’s the hardest part! I pick films all the time that I’m super excited about, and then I have to stop and think to myself: “wait am I the only one who would actually come to the theatre to see this?” It’s a difficult balance, because I think that any job where one is selecting and arranging material will always be somewhat personal, and I like that I get to put a piece of myself into it. But at the same time I’m just one person, and it feels really important that Cinecenta remain a place for the community that has something for everyone in its programming. 

Q. What movie are you most excited about showing at Cinecenta this year?

AA: I’m interested in showing Memoria, a new film from this Thai director [Apichatpong Weerasethakul] that stars Tilda Swinton as a woman who is experiencing a strange sensory disorder while travelling in Brazil. It looks very cool and a little scary. 

On a more lighthearted theme, 2021 is Cinecenta’s 50th anniversary, and we wanted to end this weird year on a celebratory note! We’ll be resuming our November/December schedule in print, and for that I’m going to program a “best of 1971” series and screen some of the most critically acclaimed films from the year Cinecenta opened. Harold and Maude and Solaris are two that made the list.

Q. Much has been said about the Cinecenta’s popcorn and people’s love of it. What is the secret?

AA: Real butter, nutritional yeast and a little bit of love ;) 

Q. In the movie adaptation of your life, who plays you?

AA: Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But if we’re just going by resemblance then probably a seven-year-old Dakota Fanning

Q. Give me your best elevator pitch as to why people should catch a screening at Cinecenta this year.

AA: Great movies, cheap prices, damn fine popcorn. Plus what else do you have going on these days? 

For what’s screening at Cinecenta, go to cinecenta.com.    

—Michael Kissinger, BEd ’94