Belove keeps classics alive at repertory theater

It takes guts to open a repertory theater at a time when Netflix, Blu-ray and digital downloads seem to have audiences pinned to their couches. But for Cinefamily head programmer Hadrian Belove, nothing compares with the communal experience of seeing movies on the bigscreen — and that’s saying something coming from the hardcore cinephile who co-founded Los Angeles’ CineFile videostore, where imports and bootlegs shared shelf space with well-worn VHS tapes.

“CineFile did really well because it was next to the Nuart,” says Belove, referring to Landmark’s adjacent single-screen arthouse, where he studied midnight-movie attendance patterns for later reference. Most repertory programs, he found, get trapped showing popular titles such as “Annie Hall” or “The Big Lebowski” at the expense of more rare or experimental choices.

Belove had bigger plans, but he was still without a screen to test them. Then he met Dan and Sammy Harkham, who had purchased the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue and updated it with a new sound system and screen. Belove bombarded them with ideas on how to run the place. Instead of shooing him away, the Harkhams invited Belove to program the calendar.

“Every film is a recommendation,” says Belove, who works with a team of film buffs to select the venue’s unique mix of crowdpleasers and obscure titles. “I learned a lot from Sammy, who says it’s OK to be idiosyncratic and even perversely personal in your programming.”

Instead of blocking off a week or more for any given series, the Cinefamily crew breaks up multiple programs across an entire month. In July, for example, Allison Anders hosts her annual rock-doc roundup on Thursday nights while Fridays are dedicated to George Kuchar’s summer “camp” picks.

And though Cinefamily has tapped into audiences not necessarily served by the New Beverly, American Cinematheque or Redcat, paying the bills remains a challenge.

A beer and liquor license would help, Belove says, and the venue is applying for nonprofit status. But their most innovative idea has been a flat-rate system, like that used by French cineclubs, where regulars can buy monthly subscriptions for $25.

“Everything I’ve done is to de-emphasize the individual film, so we don’t live and die by each movie,” Belove says. “The hardcore film buffs are going to find you regardless because they’re self-motivated. What I’m looking for is somebody who wants to be taught a little bit.”

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