Last year Justin Rhody, Abigail Smith and their pal Ben Kujawski set up a series of “vagabond” films screening around Santa Fe. Rhody and Kujawski are artists, filmmakers, producers, directors, musicians and cinema lovers. Smith is the librarian and information specialist at New Mexico Museum of Art. And their eclectic taste in the experimental, the underground, the avant-garde and anything else “outside the traditional Hollywood structure” soon found a receptive audience in The City Different. According to Rhody, what became known as No Name Cinema “began during the lockdown as a monthly, curated program that would stream live online for one time only. In November of 2021, we outfitted a warehouse space in Santa Fe as a microcinema and transitioned to hosting in-person events.”
A year ago NNC moved into an unused warehouse space at 2013 Piñon St. with room enough for “about 40 people.” The co-owners and operators filled the space with refurbished 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm projectors from the 1970s, along with a 4K UHD digital projector, a professional 135-inch screen and a stereo surround-sound system.
In the last year No Name Cinema has grown into a cinema, a gallery and a community gathering space, existing as what they call a “no-profit, non-business, anti-capitalist operation.” All events at the space are open to the public, popcorn is provided and admission is free. (Although donations are gratefully accepted to help keep the lights on.) Each screening is presented only once, with opening soundtracks and short films designed to make the event unique. Programs regularly feature filmmakers in attendance.
Occasionally, “expanded cinema” presentations occur, incorporating live musical accompaniment, multiple projectors and performance art elements. (Kujawski, Smith and Rhody also make up the theater’s house band, K/S/R.) Every four months an Open Screening event occurs in which local filmmakers are invited to share their work.
The trio behind No Name focus on showcasing international and local experimental, avant-garde and repertory films, videos and visual art. According to their website (nonamecinema.org), the cinema’s programming mission is to “select works that use the filmic medium as an art form rather than passive entertainment, to encourage an open dialogue within the community and to offer a platform for transgressive and marginalized voices and perspectives.” Through dedication and focus they are working to “assist an artistic community in New Mexico that exists outside of the museums, beyond the schlock of Hollywood and is truly a people’s cinema.”
“No Name Cinema specifically deals with artists that operate outside of the mainstream, workers that create non-populist forms of art,” explains Rhody. In the past year, NNC has screened some of the directorial work of pioneering woman director Ida Lupino (Not Wanted, Never Fear, The Hitch-Hiker). It hosted a “Cinema of Transgression” night (featuring the work of Tessa Hughes Freeland, Richard Kern and Nick Zedd). Betty Gordon’s 1983 drama Variety (about a woman who gets a job at a pornographic movie theater) was paired with an episode Gordon directed of the 1990 TV show “Monsters” and a 1950s 8mm short titled “Weeki Wachee Mermaids.” On January 20 No Name Cinema will host the Home Videos of Nelson Sullivan (1948-1989). Sullivan was an American videographer who documented the art and club scenes of Downtown New York during the 1980s. His videos, recorded on early VHS technology with a handheld camcorder, chronicle both nightlife events and the everyday trials and tribulations of his friends, many of whom would become famous queer icons.
“I find inspiration in the personal projects of others that exist outside of commercial interests,” says Rhody, encapsulating NNC’s outsider philosophy. “I’m a lifelong amateur practitioner, and I’m a true believer in the meaning that these forms contribute to existence.“
Although No Name Cinema mainly works directly with filmmakers, they are in regular contact and have worked with other microcinema organizations around the country such as Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema, Millennium Film Workshop, Canyon Cinema, Chicago Film Society, Film Diary NYC, Shapeshifters Cinema and others. “Most close to home, we’ve been regularly partnering and working with Basement Films out of Albuquerque in a variety of ways,” says Rhody. “It’s been great to have filmic comrades so near and dear to our mission.”
Athough NNC has seen its fair share of “standing room only” events, the co-founder admits the cinema’s “non-business” approach makes it hard to judge what its most “successful” screenings have been. “We work to present art that creates a personal and engaged experience—and so popularity is a difficult gauge to temper. Some screenings which only had a small number of people in attendance proved to be the most effective and perspective-shifting for those lucky few.”
Nonetheless, No Name Cinema strives to stretch the boundaries of what film art is and can be. “Our overall intention strives to foster thoughts, feelings and discussion from the viewers, instead of simply butts-in-seats,” says Rhody. “It seems like we’re winning.”