April 16, 2014

Pamela Kohn Charts a New Direction for Ciné

Photo Credit: Porter McLeod

Pamela Kohn, the new executive director at Ciné.

The Athens Film Arts Institute and local cinema Ciné, the only true art house/revival theater in Athens, hired Pamela Kohn in January as their new executive director. 

Unlike Gabe Wardell—who was the executive director for two years, successfully turned Ciné into a nonprofit and guided the theater into making the difficult financial transition from projecting movies on 35-millimeter celluloid to digital projection—Kohn is no outsider to Athens. Wardell lived in Atlanta and commuted to the Classic City, one of the personal factors that eventually contributed to his departure, though he pushed Ciné into its new era.

Kohn moved to Athens in the late 1990s and has been involved with filmmaking and cinema on a number of levels for years, including marketing and producing feature movies. “I'm a developer and facilitator,” Kohn says. “I help get artists to the desired destination.” Prior to Ciné, her most prominent role in Athens was as co-founder, festival director and producer of the Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival. (Full disclosure: I worked on the sixth and final festival in 2010 as a guest programmer and served on the board of advisors)

Kohn is a big-picture person, although she stresses that it is important to remain realistic about moving the theater into its next era. “I'm massaging everything along,” she says. “It's an exciting role, though I think it's important to be practical about things. Ciné started as one thing, but it became something else. It's evolved into something else.” 

Ciné does have an identity in town, although there are still plenty of areas where it can expand and reach out to people who may never have stepped through its doors, even though they love watching movies. “Ciné can become a living space for culture,” Kohn said.

One of Kohn's plans is to stabilize the nonprofit theater within the community and make it a truly inclusive environment, turning the still-struggling establishment into a sort of cultural salon, where patrons and artists of all kinds can come together to share ideas and intermingle, strengthening the cultural fabric that has long flourished in the city. “I want to turn Ciné into a platform for artistry,” she says.

Although her excitement is palpable, how Kohn will manage to lure more customers into the theater on a regular basis and grow Ciné's membership is a tough challenge in a city that has a fluid population and plenty of entertainment options—a dilemma Kohn was repeatedly faced with working on the Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival. But she does have plenty of short-term ideas on how to accomplish such a feat.

Kohn says she wants to incorporate more specialty programming into Ciné's schedule, showcasing series that highlight genres that tend to get audiences into seats, such as anime, film noir, horror and even Bollywood. Midnight movies may make a comeback as well, something Ciné already does once a month with showings of The Room, but there are plenty of other features that could blossom in that format. She also wants to put on events that focus on a specific director or actor, for instance mounting an overview of the recently deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. As Kohn puts it, she wants to make film-going an “event” in Athens, turning the act of sitting in a dark theater with strangers into a special experience again.

Another one of Kohn's plans is to turn the concessions area into a destination spot. Ciné already serves alcohol, along with the requisite candy and popcorn, but Kohn also envisions having people turn up at the theater solely to drink, hang out and soak in the atmosphere. “There are so many unique possibilities for this venue,” she says. “I'm eager to hear from others how to utilize this space.” 

In a town already bursting with nightclubs and bars, how does Kohn intend to attract patrons into Ciné specifically to drink? That's where the cultural salon idea comes into play. While most people coming to the theater will be going to actually watch a movie, those who simply want to sip a drink or two will be able to experience a cinematic vibe in other ways. The bar area will be transformed into a living space where digital art utilizing movie imagery or clips would be shown. There are also plans to use the bar or the side room as a spot for experimental readings for local screenwriters, an open mic forum for writers willing to test out their still-in-progress work on strangers. 

Already, Kohn has scheduled a number of events celebrating Ciné's seventh anniversary. She brought in co-star Scott Wilson (later of "The Walking Dead" fame) for an Apr. 1 screening of the true-crime drama In Cold Blood. One of the finest rock documentaries ever, Gimme Shelter, was accompanied by rock journalist and Athens newcomer Stanley Booth's talk about the tragic 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where he was present. Afterwards, local musicians played Stones covers at Little Kings. On April 15, Rory Flynn hosted a showing of her father Errol's swashbuckling feature, The Sea Hawk, a rare treat for fans of classic Hollywood cinema. Later this month, Ciné will present the French Film Series, including showings of the recent Le Week-End, François Truffaut's essential Jules and Jim and one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, Marcel Carné's romantic epic Children of Paradise.

Kohn says that Athens is booming right now culturally, and there is still plenty of room for  Ciné to grow and prosper by expanding its brand beyond those already in the know. “This area of downtown is booming, and I want Ciné to be a successful part of the community,” she says. “I want to engage with the entire city.” 

Like starting any new job, however, Kohn is just settling in to her new position and focusing on the practical tasks of keeping the theater running smoothly. Big ideas are one thing, but bathrooms have to be cleaned, too.