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The Reeler Blog

The House That Ray Built

By S.T. VanAirsdale

OK, so like every other half-ass with a blog, I'm making a resolution: I'm getting back to more regular publishing here, starting now. My proximity to the loop, as it were (i.e. so, so out of it) has frankly been shameful, so much so that I didn't know about The Sun's recent profile of ex-Pioneer Theater impresario and dear Reeler friend Ray Privett until yesterday morning; there have been other clues tweaking my guilty conscience with almost rhythmatic regularity, but this should have been an automatic for me (as it should have been for you):

In only eight years of operation, the Pioneer has provided a home for hundreds of self-sustained filmmakers who don't have a corporate safety net waiting below them; for the last four of those years, every one of those artists has been greeted at the door by the theater's inimitable programmer, Ray Privett.

"I always thought it was a mistake to try and compete head-on with the larger theaters, with places like Film Forum or Landmark or the Angelika or Village East," Mr. Privett said. "If you try to compete and do the same thing, you'll lose every time, since there's only so much you can do with one screen and 99 seats. Instead, I wanted to do the absolute opposite — to cater to the most out-there niches possible, to audiences like the local Croatian audience, which has been essentially abandoned by the 'mainstream' film community."

Now, with the recent news that the 31-year-old Mr. Privett is departing the Pioneer to concentrate on building his own production company, many on the outskirts of the city's film community are left to wonder if the Pioneer will uphold his support for unknown filmmakers. Through the years, as Mr. Privett looked beyond the mainstream, the Pioneer catalog grew steadily more diverse. His tenure brought exploitation films and great art experiments, documentaries and lesser-seen foreign titles, revivals and anarchist masterpieces. In one of his most cherished bookings, Mr. Privett reached out to Belarusian immigrants in 2006 for the screening of an underground work called Long Knives Night — a breakthrough telling of the 1996 anti-constitutional coup in Belarus that Mr. Privett had to help smuggle out of the country.

Of course, we've been following the up and downs and breakthroughs of Privett and the Pioneer virtually since we started three years ago, and The Reeler followed up the news of his jump to Cinema Purgatorio and the Queensbridge Theater with our best wishes back in March. (Check out his update and response to the profile here.) And to this day I'm hugely grateful for the opportunity to have hosted screenings, Q&A's, ReelerTV episodes and other events in what always felt like Ray's house, which was unfailingly open to me and everyone in New York and beyond -- filmmakers, cinephiles and casual filmgoers looking for an adventure in the East Village. Sujewa Ekanayake is one of the filmmakers to whom Ray opened his door (and his projector; he has a nice hat tip on his blog, while the rest of us who might take Ray's industriousness for granted salute heartily with the knowledge that, as always, he's on to great things.

Hopefully the Pioneer fares as well; I think I may take in a movie this weekend on East Third Street to find out. And for the first time in a while -- with the bloody Japanese revenge flick The Machine Girl sharing the space with Troma's latest spectacle Poultrygeist (with director and studio kingpin Lloyd Kaufman in attendance Friday night) -- I feel like a theater has given me an actual choice. Typical, Pioneer, typical.

Posted at May 22, 2008 7:05 AM

Comments (1)

machine girl involves drill bras and a hark back to the sleeze of v-cinema of early miike.

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