Sometimes, in today's world of on-demand entertainment, it's nice not to know what you're getting. At the Key Sunday Cinema Club at Merrill's Roxy in Burlington, cinephiles get the bimonthly surprise of an offbeat film that hasn't yet hit local theaters. "Secret Movie Night," a weekly event at Studio STK in the Old North End, operates on the same basic principle. But the films are shorter, the crowd is younger, and the whole experience feels like hanging out with your fellow movie geeks, watching some trippy stuff you found on the Internet.
On a recent Tuesday night, about 15 secret movie fans showed up at the gallery and settled in chairs facing a portable projection screen. Some might have been lured by an email sent out by Will Skolochenko, the 8-week-old event's organizer, who promised "a very random assortment of animation, music and demolition derby documentaries." By way of P.S., a follow-up message added, "Did I mention the zombies?"
Skolochenko showed the films using a MacBook Pro connected to a projector. The promised zombies appeared in a music video. The other films ranged widely, from arty, abstract shorts by Robert Rauschenberg and David Lynch to an amazing 1912 animation by Russian Ladislaw Starewicz, featuring Edward Gorey-esque anthropomorphized insects. At the end of the night, brothers Adam and Evan Beamer, both recent grads of local colleges, showed up to introduce two films of their own. "The Anniversary," a brisk comic short, showcased familiar locations, ending with a duel shot in the Cherry Street parking garage.
Skolochenko, 33, is a recent arrival to Burlington and works as a web designer at STK. He says he ran a similar film night when he lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, a decade ago, screening the work of "tons of local filmmakers." While he's working on making Vermont connections, many of the films he screens are from his own collection. "I've got a lot of public-domain footage - drive-in ads, old educational films," Skolochenko says. "People love it." He's also screened his own films and animations by gallery owner Sage Tucker-Ketcham.
While Skolochenko admits the grab bag of short films caters to "short attention spans," he also wants to give the audience a taste of film history. "I want to keep it rather eclectic, low-budget, obscure, underground," he says. "To provide something people can't see in theaters."
Surprisingly enough, the neighborhood boasts a second secret movie night of sorts. Every Thursday, Kriya Studio at 333 North Winooski Avenue hosts "Experimental Movie Night," where people bring their own films or favorite footage to show on a 15-by-20-foot screen sewn from fabric panels. "It's probably the same size as at the Roxy," says organizer Ian Yaple, a 21-year-old student at Burlington College.
For now, the Kriya movie night is sticking to 8- and 16-millimeter films rather than going digital. Yaple, who's shown his own films at the event, thinks it can offer something that's missing from multiplexes. "The typical movie experience around here is that you kind of just go there, watch it and leave," he says. "We welcome discussion."
Skolochenko wants people to do more than watch and leave, too. Ideally, he says, Secret Movie Night would "provide a forum for filmmakers to come and get their work seen and interact with viewers. We don't want people just to come and watch movies; we want them to get inspired and make them."