17 January 2011

Christopher Reyna’s festival-filled year: helping create quality cinema experiences at TCM, Doha Tribeca and Telluride

Open Air Theater, Doha Tribeca Film Fest. Photo: Doha Film Institute
For the past several years, Christopher Reyna of New Paradigm Productions has been imaging producer for the nonverbal film Samsara - a sequel to Baraka - working with producer Mark Magidson and director/cinematographer Ron Fricke. Between Samsara production episodes, Reyna has pursued a variety of projects that involve his technical and archival expertise and general passion for great cinema. Most recently he played a role in shaping two new and noteworthy film festivals. For Turner Classic Movies' first TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood April 22-25, 2010, he was co-technical director with Boston Light & Sound, brought in by BLSI’s Chapin Cutler. For the Second Annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Oct 26-30 in Quatar, Cutler again recruited Reyna, this time as technical liaison. This kept him busy in the Mideast much of the time between July 2010 and November 2010, with a break for the Telluride Film Festival (Sept 3-6, 2010) where Reyna is a longtime player - Telluride honored him with the Silver Medallion Award in 1998.

It was a welcome surprise to get a catch-up call from Reyna now that he’s come up for air and back at his headquarters in Paso Robles, California. In the 1990s and early 2000s I worked frequently with him as newsletter editor and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, of which he was founding president. LFCA (now merged with GSCA) was a force within the special venue cinema industry, boosting growth and innovation – promoting digital tools and the establishment of standards, encouraging the development of ancillary revenue sources and better business models, building bridges with other branches of cinema and opening the doors wide to the press, and celebrating excellence in cinematography with the Kodak Vision Award.

With the overwhelming success of its first iteration, the TCM Classic Film Festival became an annual event - the next is scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2011, and passes are now on sale. “Although Turner had presented films for many years on cable television, they had never before done a film festival,” noted Reyna. The festival would help TCM expand its brand. “They went and got the best damn prints that could be found -” Reyna approvingly recounted, “- from archives, private collectors, studios, vault prints… in some cases, when a print of the film didn’t exist, they paid to have new prints made from the best existing negatives.” There were several major restorations: King Kong, A Star is Born, North by Northwest, and Metropolis (with newly discovered footage incorporated, the restored Metropolis had its US premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival with a live score by the Alloy Orchestra – and then went on tour).

Poster: UFA. Variation on Schulz-Neudam poster.
“Because they were all archival prints, it was very important they be handled right and shown right, and all of the participating theaters were converted to platter operation,” reported Reyna. Moreover - “archival 2,000 foot reels can’t be cut, and in two of the theaters, it was necessary to restore appropriate dual projector setups to facilitate changeovers. We pushed all the other equipment aside and installed these beautiful Kinoton 35mm projectors. It was a wonderful thing. Genevieve McGillicuddy [senior director of brand activation at Turner Classic Movies] did an incredible job organizing the festival.”

Some program highlights included a 70mm screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Egyptian, with a pristine print supplied by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “The print had been run just a few times, and the Academy was on board as a sponsor,” said Reyna. There were also new prints of Singin’ in the Rain, Saturday Night Fever and The Stunt Man. On the latter, Reyna worked with the director, Richard Rush, to create a new print. Venues included the historic 1922 Egyptian Theatre (acquired and restored by The American Cinematheque in the 1990s) and the 1927 Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (owned and operated by Mann Theatres).

The personal appearances captivated audiences as much as the movies did. “For every film, they tried to get somebody who had been involved in the original production,” Reyna explained. The celebrities – many of them well on in years - included Eli Wallach (“collegial, effusive and full of stories”), Luise Rainer (“an indomitable force”), and Jean-Paul Belmondo (“dressed in a beautiful sharkskin suit and with his trademark charm”). In one of his last public appearances, the late Tony Curtis introduced Some Like it Hot and The Sweet Smell of Success. Danny and Angelica Houston were on hand for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Reyna will repeat his technical direction role for the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival, the theme of which is "Music and the Movies." The program will include a celebration of the musical legacy of The Walt Disney Studios, organized by TCM in collaboration with D23, The Official Disney Fan Club. Presentations in that vein will include a screening of the recently restored Fantasia (1940), a collection of Silly Symphonies animated shorts, and a special tribute to Disney live-action musicals. There will also be a collection of animated Laugh-O-Grams: shorts created by Walt Disney that were recently discovered and restored by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and are being presented in partnership with The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Reyna noted that the 2011 program will also include a new restoration of Citizen Kane. “The people at Turner and the festival are all great to work with - they want to put the quality into the show.”

In early July 2010, six weeks after the TCM festival closed, Reyna was in Qatar. There were about four months to ensure that all theaters - including two new, permanent venues, and two new, temporary outdoor venues - were up to standard for the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, a joint effort of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Doha Film Institute. “It was a huge job,” he reported. The two new venues – an opera house and a large theater screening room, in a new cultural village called Katara - had never opened to the public. An initial survey revealed that both needed equipment upgrades as well as architectural and acoustical fixes to make them into optimal cinema spaces. In addition, 14 theaters within two multiplexes needed projection system upgrades and setting up for simultaneous English-Arabic subtitles.

The equipment installed was all state-of-the-art, specified by Boston Light & Sound, including, as Reyna reported, “4k upgradeable Barco digital cinema projectors, the very best Kinoton 35mm projectors, and a fantastic 7.1 surround sound system with EAW speakers and QSC amps and signal processing." As GC, BLSI contracted out the acoustical work, which included modifications to the HVAC system, and plugging the holes in a stage house wall that had gone unnoticed and were the cause of a sound leak between theaters. “They were the kinds of problems often encountered in movie theater construction,” observed Reyna, “but magnified - because all the goods: equipment, staging gear, acoustical treatment and so forth - had to be imported from the US or Europe, which meant it had to come by container or air cargo, and everything got backed up. Two containers shipped in August that were supposed to come in early September didn’t arrive until early October - but in the end, it all came together, and was very successful.”

Doha Tribeca Film Fest site. Photo: Doha Film Institute
Many screenings at the 2,000-seat Katara Open Air Theatre, main hub of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, were free and open to the public, and the house was packed on opening night. This temporary structure, featuring 14 huge steel arches, was designed by Jeremy Thorn and constructed on the esplanade at Katara by Dubai-based Al Laith Event Services. The screen was 23 meters wide and the stage accommodated a full orchestra for the performance of the 1929 black-and-white classic, Throw of Dice, presented with a special live score by Nitin Sawhney and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. “That venue is larger than a football field,” noted Reyna. “It took 30 days to build and five to tear down. There were something like 7,000 light fixtures [provided by PRG] in the lighting package, with lighting designed by Adam Basset Design and running on generators from Prime Power.”

The festival kicked off October 26, 2010 with the Middle Eastern premiere of award-winning French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law. Other films screened included John Curran’s Stone, Ahmed Ahmed’s Just like Us, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, Julian Schnabel’s Miral, Randall Wallace’s Secretariat and Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader. Indian films had a strong presence, including Ram Gopal Varma’s Rakha Charitra, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, and Throw of Dice.

Egyptian Theatre in 1962. Photo: American Cinematheque
Although he didn’t savor the 125-degree F summer heat, Reyna relished the multicultural experience as much as the opportunity to create a series of quality screening rooms. He shared quarters with an Iraqi filmmaker and enjoyed exploring the variety of ethnic restaurants in the local suk. “It was really an international group. In addition to the Qatari nationals working on the festival were many people from other Arab countries – Lebanon, Beirut, Egypt, Morocco… there were also many Europeans: Transylvanian, French, German, Dutch, Danish… it was a dedicated community, very committed to launching a film industry in that area, and doing a quality project.”