Review by Sean Boelman
There are two things that filmmaker Abel Ferrara clearly and unabashedly loves: going to the movies and New York City. His newest documentary combines those two passions into one story that will undoubtedly fascinate cinephiles but may struggle to connect with general audiences.
In the documentary, movie theater owner Nicolas Nicolau tells his life story, from his days of working as an usher and manager of some of the most iconic movie houses in New York, before now running a cineplex in the heart of the city. This story traces the theatrical landscape pretty cohesively, from the blockbuster multiplexes that dominate the market now to the dark underbelly that were adult theaters in the 1970s.
At a time in which the outlook of the exhibition industry is looking increasingly grim, Ferrara’s film serves as a wonderful reminder of why movie theaters are such an important institution that needs to be saved. In tragically ironic fashion, the closure of theaters in the Big Apple will prevent the people who would need and want to see this most from watching it, the story is more important now than ever.
Ferrara casts Nicolau in an almost saint-like light as the guardian angel of all of cinema. According to the movie, it is these independent theater owners who are single-handedly putting in the work to keep the industry alive. And while the argument definitely has some merit to it, these smaller movie houses are often overshadowed by the bigger players in the greater scheme of things.
Obviously, the film plays into a lot of nostalgia that people have for the heyday of moviegoing. Of course, one would like to think that there isn’t much yearning to return to the days of sleazy porno houses, but Ferrara and Nicolaou do a lot of reminiscing about those days. Still, a majority of the focus is on what makes the general theatrical experience so wonderful.
At a few points, Ferrara attempts to go into some commentary on how the production and distribution sides of the movie business are interconnected, particularly when it comes to risque content, but these portions are too cursory in nature to go into much depth. After all, with only eighty-one minutes in runtime, there is only so much that can be done.
A majority of the movie takes the form of Nicolaou delivering a talking head interview to the camera, sometimes accompanied by B-roll from around the city, and Ferrara is able to make it feel lively despite this somewhat mundane presentation. The more dynamic portion of the film is when Nicolau gives Ferrara and the audience a tour of the New York cinema scene, though this is just a small bit.
The Projectionist is a documentary that is undeniably made by and for movie fans, and while it may not appeal beyond the core audience it serves, that group will appreciate this love letter greatly. And best of all, it will make one eager for the day that theaters can resume normal operations.
The Projectionist is now playing in select theaters.