Built in 1963 in the shell of a turn of the century fire station, Cinema Village is the oldest continuously operated cinema in Greenwich Village and one of the oldest continuously operated art cinemas in New York City.
Through most of it’s first three decades of life, Cinema Village was one of Manhattan’s several repertory cinemas. Showcasing a canon of vintage classics, cult and contemporary critical favorites on double bills that would usually change three times a week, this once essential programming format has now largely died out in commercial cinemas in the city and around the country. Before the video revolution, short of a private film collection, going to a repertory cinema was virtually the only way to see many films after their initial theatrical run. Rep houses like Cinema Village, the recently re-opened Thalia and the now long closed Bleecker Street, Carnegie Hall, 8th Street Playhouse and Regency were the autodidacts’ film school and favorite haunts of cineastes for decades.
Undermined by home video, buy-outs by major circuits and real estate development, commercial repertory cinema virtually disappeared in the city by the late 1980’s. Cinema Village only escaped closing and survived with a switch to limited engagements of highly alternative first run programming.
This resulted in an eclectic mix of slip through-the-cracks American indie sleepers (Red Rock West), the occasional revival (In the Realm of the Senses, Two Lane Blacktop, The Leopard), documentaries (Theremin, Waco: Rules of Engagement, Kurt & Courtney), festivals, animation compilations, Japanese cult cinema (Tokyo Decadence, Angel Dust, Ghost in the Shell) and heavy doses of Hong Kong cinema.
In the early nineties before Jackie Chan, John Woo, Michele Yeoh and their stunt coordinators went Hollywood, Cinema Village became known, through its annual festivals and other bookings, as the place to see the amazing Hong Kong films of what would soon to acknowledged as a filmmaking golden age. For filmgoers who never ventured to Chinatown or had only seen blurry bootleg videos, these films were a revelation and they would soon have a profound influence on international filmmaking styles. During this period we also had the privilege of playing host to personal appearances by talents such as Michele Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, Wong Kar Wai and Peter Chan.
In 2000 our patrons’ support was rewarded with a long deferred renovation and expansion of screens. When we reopened, we had transformed ourselves into a thoroughly modern three-screen facility with state of the art presentation. Our additional screens allow an even more diverse programming mix and permit us to extend runs of special films to extraordinary lengths (Mulholland Drive: 18 weeks; Yi Yi: 21 weeks; The Piano Teacher: 28 weeks).
In 2001 we quietly introduced digital video projection capabilities to accommodate the increasing reliance on digital video by independent productions. This now gives us the potential to play deserving features without the burden to distributors or filmmakers of an expensive conversion to celluloid.
The Interview Saga: It may seem hard to believe that in New York City, America’s No1 film market, Cinema Village was the only movie theater that did not bow down to the threats of a 9/11 type of attack on cinemas premiering SONY’s film “The Interview” on Christmas day of 2014. Although we do not share the qualities of the film, mocking and defaming the image of another nation, we played the film to demonstrate our value as an art house that freedom of expression should never be suppressed. We stood by our decision, even though we watched one movie theater after the another cave in to fear and intimidation by the threats and extortion that White House labelled as a “serious national security matter” and Defense Department described it as an “act of war”, until almost all NYC cinemas decided not to play the film. We may be the least powerful movie house in the City with no backing of stock market film studios, or city grants, but we do not hesitate to take a stand when the people’s first amendment is at risk.
Cinema Village will be here, a true independent movie house in the heart of America’s number one film market to bring you films of unknown and upcoming film makers from all over America and the World, that otherwise will never have had the opportunity to play in movie theaters, especially in NYC. Will continue to provide a home for the numerous film festivals, such as The Manhattan Film Festival, Workers United , Kino from Germany, The Other Israel , African Diaspora International, Winter film Awards, Socially Relevant, Reel Recovery, Wildlife Conservatory, New York Short Film, Arab Cinema week, and let’s not forget Dan Savage’s HUMP!, where all New Yorkers are sexy. .
Nearing its sixth decade, Cinema Village is proud of its longevity and thankful to have survived the pitfalls that have taken down so many other independent cinemas. Notwithstanding our resourcefulness, our ability to survive is testimony entirely to the New York City audience. We could probably only exist where we are: in the midst of the most diverse, cosmopolitan and cine-aware city.