Cinema East Austin has flourished from 200 hundred guests in 2010 to approximately 500 attendees in 2012. Maybe it’s the cool, laid-back, pay-what-you-can kind of attitude that attracts Austinites, or maybe it’s the fact that film festival movies are screening without the draining price of purchasing a badge. Whatever it is, it seems to be working because founder Maggie Lea continues to bring eccentric films to Austin’s scene.
East Austin is home to a few outdoor screenings, but Cinema East offers affordability, access to filmmakers and film-fest favorites handpicked by Lea. They’re known for their eclectic array of independent narratives and short films that captivate nicely at their current location, the French Legation Museum. And it wouldn’t be a movie night without the BYOB, all-ages, and bike- and pet-friendly vibes.
“A lot of people come not knowing what the movie is about. I want the series to feel like easy access, you know: pay what you can, BYOB, hangout with your friends,” said Lea
Lea’s spunky personality as she speaks about films and Cinema East Austin resembles an exciting anticipation one gets when eagerly waiting in line for a movie ticket. Her choice to have the series outside was influenced by a question she asked herself: “What would I want to do on a Sunday?” Outdoors, hanging out with friends and BYOB were seemingly apart of her answer. That’s why she chose to make it that way.
“I tried to think of something where my friends would come,” Lea said.
Cinema East’s outdoorsy atmosphere also allows moviegoers to approach filmmakers in a more relaxed, conversational way.
“I want people to experience interaction with filmmakers who’ve actually flown in for a Q-and-A. It’s outdoors so they can approach the filmmakers,” she said.
Lea’s choice of films that screen are sometimes influenced by emerging visions, a category she sometimes focuses on when she attends film festivals such as South by Southwest, Tribeca and Sundance. Most times, films are picked based on their Austin ties, like summer 2013’s first screening Cutie and the Boxer. Director Zachary Heinzerling, who formerly lived in Austin, is scheduled to attend the screening on June 9 for a Q-and-A panel, and well, this won’t be his first Cinema East event.
“He actually came to some of the first Cinema East (screenings). So this is his hometown,” said Lea. “He moved to New York and he made the film. So when I went to Sundance, I saw it and it was amazing. It was very uplifting.”
Cinema East’s easygoing environment evokes an overall fun feeling and sometimes the ambiance can be just as inspiring as the films being screened. During summer 2012, the series finale “Girl Walk/All Day” brought the hour-long music video into a real-life impromptu dance session.
“At the end of the film people started getting up and dancing. At first it was just the front row, but by the end of the movie 500 people were dancing to this film. It was like an outside dance party. It was huge and it wasn’t rehearsed,” said Lea.”I think it was very inspiring to watch. I think it was a great finale.”
While Austin can be known for its thoughtfulness and artiness as an independent film scene, Cinema East showcases artistic talent and innovative visions within the context of a diverse crowd hanging out for a relaxed Sunday night.
“I think it’s a good way to mix being social and watching a movie,” she said.
Cinema East Austin is kicking off its summer 2013 series with a June 3 launch party at Cheer Up Charlie’s. It’s open to the public and there will be a preview of Cutie and The Boxer, giveaways and drink specials. Producers and filmmakers will be in attendance. For updates and upcoming events, visit their website.