It’s movie night, but inside the Vera Project at Seattle Center, you won’t find the usual frills of the cinema experience. A crowd of 20 people pulls metal folding chairs around a shallow stage. And instead of a flashy preview trailer, the night opens with a brief introduction to the evening’s selection, a 50-minute documentary projecting the philosophies of Karl Marx onto the global financial crisis of 2008.
It’s not your typical Hollywood blockbuster, and as a result, the audience can relate.
When the lights come up, viewers swing their chairs into a circle and share story lines from their own lives, including the post-college job hunt and Seattle’s Occupy movement
This is Cinema Politica Seattle, a free monthly screening of thought-provoking, controversial and hard-to-come-by documentaries. Film subjects include Dumpster-diving, consumerism and culture jamming.
Founded several years ago in Montreal with the goal of providing a forum and audience for independent filmmakers, Cinema Politica has become an international network of civic-minded film sharing. It’s funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. Canadian filmmakers produce many of the documentaries, but the content and politics of the films span the globe.
Four college students, Cassie Hoeprich, Annie Holden, Jordan Cameron and Jonathan Yourzak, brought Cinema Politica to Seattle after Holden and Hoeprich attended a cp screening while studying abroad in Berlin last fall.
“The fact that you can encounter people of all different backgrounds over beer and coffee, and chat about theory as it plays out in contemporary life with a man from Spain and a guy from Berlin, all for free,” Hoeprich said, “made me realize, we take our college experience for granted.”
Back home the two reached out to their peers Yourzak and Cameron for help getting the project going.
Cinema Politica Seattle’s founders see the screenings as more than entertainment.
“It’s a political act just to go to the film,” Hoeprich said.
The group dynamic is part of the reason, Holden added.
“When you watch documentaries, sometimes you just feel helpless at the end. You think: There are so many problems in the world, what can I do to change everything going on?” Holden said. “Watching it with people who all care about the same thing, you feel that you can make more of an impact.”
With Cinema Politica, the film doesn’t end with the credits.
“At the end of a dramatic film screening [when] you experience catharsis and you walk off into your life and slowly you come back from a daze … that’s the antithesis of what we’re trying to do,” Yourzak said. “We want people to engage and be active with the film. We want people to be learning things. We want people to be challenging their own presuppositions.”
Cinema Politica has also elected to invite figures from the community to speak on issues.
“If you’re not cautious, [some films] can be coercive,” Cameron said. “Discussion allows you to think about [topics] further.”
Though the four knew each other through their studies at the University of Washington, they wanted to take the Cinema Politica concept off campus.
A disability studies minor, Holden said accessibility is the crux of the project. Screenings are free to the public and the venue, the Vera Project, is open to all ages.
“My hope [for this project] is that I find a new sense of community, or at least a different sense of community within Seattle,” Hoeprich said. “We pretty much have these established groups that we run in. This is helping to define new ones, even if it’s for one evening, and it’s through film.”