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Peggy Johnson  • Executive Director, The Loft Cinema

“We have open doors to any films and no limitations”

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- The Executive Director of the Arizona-based theatre discussed its main initiatives, the reception of classics and new titles by the audience, and programming European films

Peggy Johnson  • Executive Director, The Loft Cinema

On the occasion of the 18th Arthouse Cinema Training organised by the CICAE during this year’s Venice Production Bridge (2-7 September), we sat down with  Peggy Johnson, Executive Director of Arizona-based The Loft Cinema. Prior to taking the reins at The Loft, Johnson worked as a broadcast journalist at Tucson’s Public Television Station, KUAT, for 24 years, and she was also the “Film Critic At Large” on Arizona Public Media’s NPR Station. Our chat centred on The Loft Cinema’s  main initiatives, the reception of classics and new titles in pandemic times and programming European films.

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Cineuropa: What are Cinema Loft’s main activities?
Peggy Johnson: I am executive director of Loft Cinema in Tucson, Arizona, which is a city of about 1 million people just north of the Mexican-US border. We’re a very progressive city. We’ve three screens. The largest is equipped with reel-to-reel 35 and 70mm projectors, while the others all have DCP. During Covid, we inaugurated an open air theatre that we had to close down in the summer because it got too hot for the projector. Another of our major initiatives is the solar cinema, a van with solar panels which power the projector and the screen. With this van, we take films to Indian reservations, different parts of the city and in smaller towns. We established The Loft Cinema about five, six years ago. That’s everything, in a nutshell.

What is your take on programming classics and new titles?
It’s an interesting question. Sometimes, new films may be challenging as they can deal with subject matters that are, altogether, not comfortable. But with the classics, it’s a totally different story... For example, we will have three or four new films and The Big Lebowski (1998) twice, and the Coen Brothers’ film will make more money than the new titles. Same goes for The Goonies (1985), it’s like comfort food. [People say:] “I wanna go see something that I know I’m gonna like, it’s not gonna upset me, I’m gonna go with my friends, I’m gonna grab a beer and go for a night out, which I haven’t been able to do in a long time. I’d rather go see these films because I don’t know about these other flicks, they may be good, they may not be...” At first, I was a little frustrated about it, because I was so excited about these wonderful, new films, but then I realised that you want to show them what they want to see. Our job is to make them happy. So it’s been great, after all.

What is your take on programming when it comes to European films?
We have the luxury of three screens, so we can show 75 screenings a week. One of the screens shows classics, and last month we organised a dedicated series. That happened after our 14-month closure [from March 2020 to May 2021]. Meanwhile, we had the outdoor theatre going, but nothing indoors. We finally reintroduced our directors’ series in August with a focus on Federico Fellini, and it went very well. In terms of new titles, we show what’s available; for instance, titles such as Julia Ducournau’s Titane [+see also:
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and Leos Carax’s Annette [+see also:
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. We screen the best of what’s new and we try to be “eclectic” in terms of the number of countries and directors we want to represent, striving for diversity.

How do you see the future of arthouse exhibition?
I have to say I’m very optimistic about the future. We’ll still have a rough road for a while, but the films we’ve been able to book since we opened in May have been really great. Some weeks are better than others, but we’ve been very lucky. We’re the only cinema in the area that works on a true arthouse model. We don’t have any rules. We work with Amazon, Netflix, regular distributors, and we show whatever film is available to us that we think that our community needs to see. So, we have open doors to any films and no limitations. Some of the multiplexes wouldn't take films that are going to be streamed in, let’s say, three months, but we take everything since our audience trusts our taste.

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