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Interview: Ben and Kat Sachs of Beguiled Cinema

Written by
Michael Smith

Beguiled Cinema, the programming endeavor of local critics Ben Sachs (Chicago Reader) and Kat Sachs (Cine-File), has teamed up with Chicago Filmmakers to present a double feature of films by director Dan Sallitt at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema this Friday night, January 16. The films on the program include Honeymoon (1998) and All the Ships at Sea (2004), and afford a rare chance to see the work of one of the unheralded masters of independent American cinema. The screening will be introduced by New City’s Ray Pride and be followed by a Q&A led by the A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. I recently spoke to Ben and Kat about their programming philosophy and Sallitt’s unique filmmaking style.

Beguiled Cinema’s programming choices have been offbeat and adventurous. What criteria do you use in determining which films to screen?
BS: Well, so far we don’t have any criteria. We’re kind of figuring this out as we go. It started last summer. Kat and I just wanted to bring back the movie Breakfast with Curtis because we really loved it and we felt that nobody saw it. And then Kat came up with the idea of just giving us a name, sort of like a band, so it wasn’t just us presenting it, it was an organization presenting it. We had a really good time doing that so we thought, “Well, what are some other things we’d like to show?” The next thing that we did just fell into place: these short documentaries by this Polish filmmaker named Lukasz Konopa, who we had met at the True/False Film Festival. We got to know him and we were able to show his movies for relatively little money. I guess that’s the main criteria, if it’s affordable to show and if it’s something we think would work in a small venue. And then with Permanent Vacation, again we found a really good price for that print and we thought, “It would be a lot of fun to show this.”

KS: We don’t have any set criteria, and I doubt we ever will. I think we prefer it that way. We watch so many movies; I doubt we could ever limit ourselves to films from a certain genre or made in a certain style. We’re letting randomness be our mission.

Your two most recent endeavors have involved projecting 16mm prints. How important is it to you to project films on film and why is this something people should care about in the “Digital Age?”
BS: Well, we just like how film looks. If we’re going to convince people to come out to a screening, especially of a movie that they might not know, I think seeing something on film distinguishes that experience and makes it more of an event. It seems like we’re going to have to turn film screenings into events because I think it’s hard to convince people to come just for a movie. So if we can get stuff on film that would be great but we’re not insistent on it. The first two things we showed, we showed digitally. But those movies were also shot digitally.

KS: I’d love to show more stuff on film, but it’s easier said than done. And as much as we prefer celluloid in our day-to-day moviegoing, I think it’s become increasingly more difficult to get people out to the theater at all, regardless of the format. I don’t quite understand the psychology behind it. People will go to art museums, they’ll go see live music, when they can easily access that same art at home. They’ll say, “A painting is one of a kind. Live music can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Film isn’t any different in that regard. A great screening is about more than just the movie, it’s about the experience.

Dan Sallitt is a wonderful filmmaker whose work is under the radar of even a lot of seasoned cinephiles. How would you describe his work and what could potential filmgoers expect from the double-feature screening on Friday?
BS: Why is Dan’s stuff under the radar? I think it’s because he’s self-financed and self-distributed all of his films. Cinema Guild handled the video and VOD distribution of The Unspeakable Act but he still handled the theatrical distribution for that himself. When it’s just a one-man operation like that, it’s hard to spread the word and create a groundswell of interest. As for what the movies are like, Eric Rohmer is a great point of reference. Dan has said he’s the only filmmaker he consciously thinks of when he’s working, even though he loves lots of different filmmakers. As with Rohmer, I think it’s the same kind of classicism: this very straightforward naturalism that’s very attuned to places, faces, nature, and presented in this very clear way that’s almost serene. And I think what really interests him, how people can be very mysterious.

KS: Dan is a consummate cinephile. We should all aspire to his breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding. Watching his films has only made me further appreciate what it means to truly connect with the art form. Dan once said in an interview for MUBI, “Filming two people sitting in a room talking is the ultimate in cinema.” That’s stuck with me ever since I read it. And I believe that the chance to see any of his films is a rare opportunity to experience that “ultimate in cinema.”

You can learn more about the Dan Sallitt double feature at the Chicago Filmmakers website.

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