Celebrating a decade of a/perture cinema
The first movie I saw at a/perture cinema was the 2017 Darren Aronofsky film, Mother! I was still new to the Triad, and quite honestly, I was lonely, heartbroken, and I felt like a loser going to that movie alone. After the film, I remembered feeling that loneliness pass. It was, in a way, very healing. I started going back to more and more screenings alone after that because I no longer felt afraid to—I finally felt welcomed and comfortable. I guess you could say that a/perture really helped acclimate me to the Triad. The most memorable movie I have seen at a/perture was Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Shape of Water. I was on a date with the love of my life, and I believe it was the first movie we saw in a theater together. I remember trying to fight back the tears because I didn’t want him to see me crying at a movie like a baby; that was the same night that we decided to move in together and take our relationship more seriously.
On Jan. 8, I went to a/perture with the same hot date (I wanted him to see Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems), and when we walked in, we noticed a big cake and some writings on the wall. The cake was to celebrate a/perture’s 10th birthday, and the writing on the chalkboard were people’s favorite films they had seen at a/perture over the last decade. Of course, I had to add Shape of Water because that experience at the movies would be one I would never forget.
Creating a memorable experience at the movies is exactly what the owner and executive director of a/perture cinema Lawren Desai wanted to achieve with the addition of the iconic arthouse cinema in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem.
“Amelie is obviously the film that I love, but it was my experience with it— the first time I saw it was at the Angelika in New York City,” said Desai of her favorite movie. “It was an arthouse cinema, and you could feel the subway running underneath. It was just this great vibe and is definitely what made my experience so memorable. That is what I wanted a/perture to be.”
“I think that is what all of us that run arthouses in the world [want],” she added. “Saving those experiences.”
Even though a/perture already observed its 10th birthday with some cake and reminiscing, the real celebration will take place at the nonprofit cinema’s annual fundraiser, the Red Carpet Party on Feb. 9. During “Hollywood’s biggest night,” a/perture will open its doors and screen the big award show in all of its theaters. Starting at 6:30 p.m., guests will get star treatment as they enter on the red carpet, dressed in their Hollywood-best. (The award ceremony starts later on that night at 8 p.m.) Other than celebrating the previous year’s best movies and a/perture’s 10th anniversary, Desai said this year’s Red Carpet Party would be different because it would include dishes inspired by the nominees for “Best Picture.”
Muller said that those participating in creating the “Best Picture” dishes include chefs from Jeffrey Adams, Delicious by Shereen, OoMami, Mission Pizza, Y’all Sauce Co., Bobby Boy Bakery, Canteen/The Porch/Alma, Lavender and Honey Kitchen, and Local 27101. Desai said the dishes would be judged by local food bloggers Nikki Miller-Ka of Nik Snacks and TeriLyn Hutcheon Adams of A Foodie Stays Fit, and an audience award would be given to the chef who wins. Desai said that there would be trivia, bingo and other games happening in the two theaters upstairs during commercial breaks.
“People will cheer, and it kind of ends up that one of the studios is more subdued than the other,” Desai said of audience participation. “They have different vibes in each, and people will switch between the two depending. It is cool sociology seeing how people watch the show—they cheer, clap and get into it. It’s like a sports event.”
“When we show concert films sometimes, people will act like they are at the concert,” added patron volunteer and community outreach manager Alex Muller, the newest addition to a/perture.
(Speaking of concert films, YES! Weekly is sponsoring the screening of The Doors: Break On Through—A Celebration of Ray Manzarek on Feb. 12.)
Desai said there would also be a raffle for two winners for “Dinner and A Movie” at six different restaurants, and there would also be a silent auction for people to bid on throughout the night. The Dinner and a Movie raffle participants include 6th & Vine, Bib’s BBQ, Crafted, Earl’s, Forsyth Seafood Cafe, Mellow Mushroom, Mozelle’s, Meridian, Quanto Basta, Spring House, Xcaret, and Yamas.
She said that attendees could also fill out their own ballots, and there would be prizes given to those with the closest award predictions.
Desai said a/perture had celebrated Hollywood’s biggest night in one form or another since the arthouse cinema’s inception. When a/perture became a nonprofit, the Red Carpet Party turned into its annual fundraiser.
“The idea is to get more people to the party so that there are more people there to celebrate our 10 year anniversary,” Desai said.
The addition of Muller has helped a/perture become more focused and connected with the community, Desai said. Muller said he oversees the membership and volunteer programs as well as a/perture’s development, fundraisers, sponsorships and other community collaborations.
“One of the first things we did when we became a nonprofit was apply for a grant, which funds Alex’s position,” Desai explained.
“My position is one of the big changes in the last few years,” Muller said. “But we have also added an education component and someone to lead that. That is actually what the Red Carpet funds go toward.”
“The whole reason is to obviously teach the younger generations about films,” Desai explained of the education program at a/perture. “But, there is a practical side to that. Kids are watching movies on their phones, and we have to give them that experience if we want to make sure that the cinema is still around in 50 years. We have to cultivate that audience now.”
A/perture’s education program is led by Gray Gordon, and one of his projects include Girls + Screen, a collaboration with Sawtooth’s Girls and Production program.
“We have always had the education component, and [Sawtooth] had more of the production/education component,” Muller said. “So this year, we have kind of thought of it in two different chunks; Girls + Screen is going on the full year, and the fall it is a weekly meeting where it is an introduction to feminist film theory. In the spring, it will be more of a film club with a monthly screening of films made by women.”
Other a/perture programs include the summer camp program called Light Boxers, Looking At Art Cinema (now called The Scope), school field trips as well as over 60 community collaborations.
“They will use the stuff they are doing in their curriculum, like The Outsiders, To Kill A Mockingbird— stuff they have just read and then they will come see the movie,” said Desai of the field trip programs.
“Gray and I are currently working with SECCA on a cult film series,” Muller said. “So, we are going to try to do monthly screenings there.”
The Scope, Desai explained, is still being figured out. She said a/perture would host a showing of a film that didn’t make it on screen and show it to the community to facilitate discussions. Unlike Looking at Art Cinema, The Scope will take place at night.
“We did it in January with the film called, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. We had one of the faculty members at the School of the Arts talk about talk about [sound production]. We are looking for opportunities like that while we think about the future of Looking at Art Cinema.” She said The Scope would likely take place on Sunday nights.
Some current community collaborations include a partnership with YES! Weekly, Bookmarks and, as previously mentioned, SECCA.
“We love to collaborate,” Desai said. “Trying to share and work together with other groups. We show so many different types of films, and usually, there is a particular audience for each type of film. Working with those groups helps us reach that audience.”
One recent change that the arthouse cinema is especially proud of is their strides in sustainability.
“With sustainability, we are pushing to have as many compostable concession products as possible,” Muller said. “We are getting close.”
Desai said that a/perture composted 3,000 pounds of waste. She said a/perture is trying to be a beacon of hope for other businesses to show them that these sustainability practices work.
Something else that is different this year is Desai’s plans to attend the Berlin Film Festivals instead of Sundance to pick out the films that will be shown of a/perture for the rest of the year.
“It is a lot of the same films that will happen at Sundance, but the benefit is I can see how they did at Sundance, and hear feedback,” she explained. “Because The Oscars are two weeks earlier, they are literally right after Sundance, and I couldn’t do it. So, we will see how Berlin goes.”
Desai said these global film festivals are a great opportunity for her to see 25-30 films that she could choose from and bring to a/perture.
“We are trying to program similar films year-round that you see at festivals,” Muller said. “This year, it will be a bit different because we will be the venue for the first week [of Riverrun]. In the past, it has been the whole time, but this year we will open back up for the second week of the festival.”
A/perture hosts a number of special film series throughout the year. Last year, a/perture added a new series and a new partnership.
Muller said the Lit Flicks Series is in partnership with Bookmarks, and each quarter, there would be a new film coming to a/perture that is adapted from literature. After the screening, Muller said there would be a book club meeting at Bookmarks that would discuss the film and how it corresponded to the book. Muller said the most recent film for Lit Flicks was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and the next one would be Emma (book by Jane Austen) in March.
“Last year, we launched a series called Cine Mexico, which was six films, and five of them were contemporary Mexican films,” Desai said. “We are looking to really elevate parts of the film industry that need our attention and introduce them to new audiences.”
Cine Mexico is during Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, and coming up in February is the African-American film series called, Black Cinema a/Journey. According to the website, “The purpose of this series is to celebrate four amazing black filmmakers during Black History Month, this year with a focus on current films and working directors who are making a mark on the industry. We celebrate their style, artistry and contribution to film at a time when the industry continues to under-represent the black filmmaker.”
Black Cinema a/Journey features a different film each Thursday during Black History Month. This series is in its third year at a/perture.
“The past two years have been more like the idea of looking at black cinema over time,” Desai said. “This year, we are focusing on current filmmakers; they are all new-release films. What was really cool about this year, we invited six African-Americans—artists, community leaders— to help us program the films. They watched films, and they picked the four they wanted to screen.”
According to the website, the artists, influencers, journalists and community leaders Abrea Cherelle Armstrong, Michael Hewlitt, Jacinta White, Rashad Little, Cheryl & Miles Harry, and Nathan Ross Freeman were chosen to help select the films for Black Cinema. These films include Queen & Slim, The Weekend, The Last Tree, and Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.
Muller said another series that a/perture is participating in for the second year is the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers.
“That is a really awesome series,” Desai said. “The idea of the series— it is funded by the National Endowment of the Arts—in the South is to take filmmakers’ films, so audiences get a chance to see the artists and talk to them after.”
Desai explained that the series was composed of three films in the fall, and the next three will start in February and span into spring.
“For us, it is great,” she said of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. “Obviously, Riverrun brings filmmakers to town and filmmakers travel for festivals, but otherwise, in Winston-Salem, it is not the easiest to do, nor do we have the capacity to fly filmmakers here. So this is a chance, being apart of this program, to get filmmakers with their films.”
From 2010 to 2020, there have been so many changes in technology, mediums, and how people communicate and receive media. Through these changes, a/perture has adapted and is still adapting.
“A lot has changed,” Desai said, reflecting on the past decade. “I mean, a lot changed since we went from a small, struggling for-profit into a nonprofit that can capitalize on the fact that we are a very philanthropic community. But there have been other changes, like in the industry in general. We went from 35mm to digital, and Netflix didn’t exist then.”
Muller added that a/perture has grown from two screens to four and a half screens. The half-screen represents the new Street-Side Cinema, launched this past summer, Muller said.
“We are trying to really represent our environment with our space and the films that we are showing,” Desai added. “That has been a big push over the last two years and will continue to be.”
With its strong roots deeply embedded into downtown Winston-Salem, I think it is safe to assume that a/perture will be around for another decade, and hopefully many more. I know for a fact that the Triad I have grown to know and love would not be the same without its presence.
Katie Murawski is the editor-in-chief of YES! Weekly. Her alter egos include The Grimberlyn Reaper, skater/public relations board chair for Greensboro Roller Derby, and Roy Fahrenheit, drag entertainer and self-proclaimed King of Glamp.
Muller is still looking for volunteers for the Red Carpet Party, “especially for the cleaning up portion.” Volunteers work two and a half hour-shift and get a film voucher. For more information, visit the website. A/perture’s Red Carpet Party is on Feb. 9, doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the award show starts at 8 p.m. VIP and general admission tickets are located on the website, and tickets for young adults ages 16-30 are $60, all other tickets are $100. Tickets are available until Feb. 1 and include beer and wine (for those 21 and up), “a silent auction, Dinner and A Movie raffle, games, surprises, and the opportunity to watch Hollywood’s biggest evening on the big screens.”