BY JULIA CIRIGNANO
Mark Anastasio is the Program Manager at The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass. Anastasio has managed to always keep this program eccentric and unique due to the abounding passion he has for his work. On March 10, 2016, Anastasio celebrated 10 years of working at The Coolidge and has continued to create new and interesting events year after year.
“I like playing movies for people the most. I think I have the most fun at a film event that I planned,” he said. “I like promoting the events here at the theatre. I really love hosting them. That’s when I’m enjoying the job the most. When I’m able to see audiences get excited at one of our events. That’s like the best, refreshing part of the gig.”
At The Coolidge, Anastasio is currently working on their weekly After Midnite Series which features weekend screenings of horrifying, weird, camp, avant garde, tripped out, and cult films, often from 35 mm prints.
“It’s primarily a genre film series. We mostly run horror and science fiction and all that type of fun stuff,” he said. “Currently, we have a program happening in September that’s a multitude of class midnight films. Because we see such a turnover in the city in September, I wanted to really open people’s eyes to the spirit of this film series in general, so that gave me the idea to run some of the more classic midnight films like the real midnight movies.”
Anastasio talked about the importance and exclusive purity of watching a film in the theatre.
“Even though we’re playing events every weekend of the year, there are some films that some people agree can be, and only should be, seen with an audience, in a theater, at midnight,” he said. “You have Pink Flamingos that we ran last week (Sept. 2, 2016) which is one of them. This weekend (Sept. 9, 2016) we’re playing, what many people consider to be the first midnight movie, which is El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky and we follow up that up on Saturday night with a film from the same director, The Holy Mountain.”
While Anastasio finds watching movies in theatres to be a one-of-a kind experience, he talked about the positive and negative impact that Video on Demand (VOD), Amazon, iTunes, Hulu and other viewing platforms have had on The Coolidge. Although there seems to be a pretty direct connection, Anastasio explained that he tends to pick movies that are not available on those websites to avoid conflict and competition. By doing this, The Coolidge can successfully work alongside these websites since both are displaying different products.
Surprisingly, these websites such as Netflix, have managed to make a positive impact on The Coolidge in some ways.
“Netflix has helped us to build interest in some types of movies,” said Anastasio. “I remember when Twin Peaks first became available on Netflix. It was all that was showing up on people’s newsfeeds was like how every one of your friends was watching Twin Peaks. Then, we programmed the film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as a Midnite title, and it brought out like 350 people. It was an insanely popular show and I could only attribute that to people newly discovering the television series on Netflix.”
Anastasio does admit, though, that these other platforms, which are designed primarily for a younger generation, make it harder for him to gain a younger demographic. Anastasio has a passion and great skill set for his job, yet he is faced with some other challenges too. The biggest challenge with programing The After Midnite Series is, “Film availability. With this film series in particular, we like to play as much as we can, on 35-mm. If we can’t find a film on 35-mm, sometimes we’ll source at 16-mm.”
Anastasio gave one example, “a few years ago when we wanted to play Predator, the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, we heard back from Fox that they didn’t have a 35-mm print.” He was surprised that the film hadn’t been preserved on 35-mm in 1987.
Anastasio also talked about the difficulty filling seats. While The Coolidge does have some dedicated fans, with new technology nowadays, it’s hard to get people to come off their couches. Anastasio did end on a positive note saying, “We’re fortunate that we’re in Boston. This is a pretty great town for film. We see our audience grow each year that we’ve run this series, especially with the increased frequency in which we’re running midnight films.”
In July, The Coolidge launched the “Summer of Psychosis” series where they screened ten different films on 35-mm. They decided to screen two different films back to back, instead of one over two nights.
“I wanted to try something new,” said Anastasio. “The series, for the ten years that I’ve been involved, there was always one film screened on both Friday and Saturday nights.”
With the “Summer of Psychosis” series, Anastasio wanted to play ten instead of five movies in order to, “give examples of what we were talking about with that film series; the different forms of psychosis that can manifest within people, and we just needed more to exemplify that.”
Anastasio took a risk, got approval from the Executive Director of The Coolidge, and the “Summer of Psychosis” series ended up being widely successful.
“We had close to sell out audiences for Taxi Driver. We actually did sell out the house for The Shining. So each weekend, we were leading with one of those larger titles, and then the accompanying title which would play the next night, was kind of a B-side,” he said.
This setup gave some lesser known films, such as Santa Sangre, exposure because they were partnered with a big name film.
Anastasio reminisced about one especially memorable experience he had during a movie that screened at The Coolidge. Although the film was very gory, he said that the audience had a great time due to the ironic structure of the movie plot.
“It was kind of an epiphany experience I had during one of our Halloween marathons, where the third film of the night was a film called Demons by Lamberto Bava,” he said. “It was produced by Dario Argento. The movie is about people going to a movie theater and the movie that they’re watching is about the spread of this demonic plague that everyone turns into demons and then everyone in the theatre becomes demons and begins tearing everyone apart. It becomes a survival horror film within a movie theatre.”
On Friday, October 21, The Coolidge is once again partnering with the Trustee of the Reservations to present “Cabin of Horror” at Rocky Woods Reservation in Medfield, Mass., where they’re screening the original The Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods.
Anastasio talked about the success he had presenting some of the Friday the 13th films last year at Rocky Woods Reservation. For a while, Anastasio had been looking for a place to host such an event, and was thrilled when The Trustee of the Reservation agreed to his pitch that many people had turned down. Anastasio joked about this struggle saying, “When you’re pitching horror films, you’re like, ‘hey, we run this midnight movie series and we want to bring our audience to your location to watch slasher films, like at your camp,’ like the answer to that was almost always, ‘no’.”
Anastasio received a phone call from the Program Manager of The Trustee of the Reservation. He asked if Anastasio had any use for their campsite.
“I had to like mute the phone and do a bunch of fist pumping, then pick up the phone and be like, ‘yes, yes, we would be interested. I think we can make this work’.”
Anastasio decided to pick November 13th, 2015, to play the original Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives at Rocky Woods. The setting was perfect and the screening attracted many fans. Due to the success of the screening, The Coolidge decided to put the same show on again six months later on May 13th by screening Friday the 13th Part III and Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, selling over 300 tickets.
“On May 13th, it was pouring rain the entire day. We planned for it and were able to set up additional tents, but the audience themselves, everyone who arrived, brought their tailgating tent. It turned into this weird little camp ground and, throughout the entire evening, through two movies, it was pouring rain, we were grilling in the rain and it was a great time. There wasn’t a single complaint. Nobody even brought up the idea of ‘may I have a refund’,” Anastasio said.
Anastasio was surprised by the fans dedication and easy going love for film. He hopes to have the same type of success on October 21st at the “Cabin of Horror” event at Rocky Woods. (Purchase tickets HERE).
Anastasio anticipates doing more screenings with themes at Rocky Woods Reservation in the future and is looking to expand The Coolidge’s resume.
“They have a new program coordinator at this point, but they seem just as game to put on these types of events,” he said. “I’d like to branch out. Even though these horror events are great, it would be great to start doing different types of films and many utilize some of [The Trustee of the Reservation’s] other locations. We’ve only briefly started to talk about that subject but they’re a wonderful organization. They have so many great properties around Massachusetts that I’m sure we can find different ways to activate their other spaces with film.”
This October, The Coolidge After Midnite schedule is full of horror related films for the Halloween season. Among the films being screened are The Omen on Sept. 30th, To The Devil A Daughter (Oct. 1st), The Amityville Horror (Oct. 7th), The Exorcist (Oct. 8th), The Pit (Oct. 14th, 15th & 22nd), An American Werewolf in London (Oct. 14th), Curse of the Werewolf (Oct. 15th), Poltergeist (Oct. 21st & 22nd), and The Fly (Oct. 28th).
The Coolidge will also be hosting their 16th annual Halloween Horror Marathon on Oct. 29th. (Purchase tickets HERE). Anastasio explained that the film selection is a joint effort within the Coolidge staff. Anastasio also added that he always makes sure to consult the projection staff because, “they’re the guys who have to stay up all night running these movies. They definitely have a say in what’s shown.”
Anastasio’s passion for film has led to The Coolidge’s success, but he is sure to include the opinions of the people he works with and always has his ears open for new ideas that his co-workers present.
Anastasio explained the format of the annual horror movie marathon.
“The first two movies of the night are the ones we use to sell the event and then the additional four or five titles remain a secret throughout the night,” he said.
For this year’s marathon, Anastasio has chosen Scream and Scream 2 as the announced double feature. He also gave a hint about what the other movies may be.
“I can tell you that in programing the remainder of this year’s marathon, all of the programing ideas came from watching Scream and Scream 2,” he said.
You have to attend the show to find out which movies Anastasio selected that, “are either directly or indirectly referenced by the first two Scream movies.”
The Coolidge Corner Theatre is located at 290 Harvard Street in Brookline. Visit their website by clicking HERE.
A NOTE FROM OUR PUBLISHER – Today (Sept. 24, 2016) is the first ever Art House Day, which celebrates the legacy of independent theaters as advocates for cinema arts. In an age where media has become more digital than tangible, more solitary than social, art house theaters remain the physical spaces where film lovers congregate and connect with intrepid, creative filmmaking. They are the beating heart for new and exciting cinema that is shaping the future of the medium. Although we interviewed Mark Anastasio nearly two weeks ago, we held this story for Art House Day because the Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of our all time favorite theaters in the country and you can often find us there on weekends at midnight. We applaud Mark on his 10 years of service at the theater and the entire Coolidge staff for bringing great entertainment and passion for film to the Greater Boston Area!!! ~ Jay