STRAND A Natural History of Cinema a documentary by
Christian Bruno

About the Film:

What does it mean to go to the movies? Through an examination of the repertory and revival era in San Francisco, STRAND explores this question while uncovering the hidden history of one of the richest moments in filmgoing. From approximately the 1960’s to the early 80’s, dozens of theatres and storefront cinemas ran double and triple bills, unearthing forgotten films, unspooling classics and creating many more along the way. In many ways, a defining era that shaped the way we feel about movies today, it was also an era that saw a huge decline in the social and economic structure of America’s once thriving urban centers through programs like urban renewal.

Structured like a visual excavation of the once-opulent movie palaces that stand silently around the City, STRAND’s camera explores the layers of history that exist below the surface. It’s lyrical style incorporates contemporary 16mm film with archival photos and footage along while a number of interviews tell the story. A wide range of subjects, historians, former theatre operators, filmmakers, essayists and authors, appear on and off screen, explore the social dimensions of moviegoing: beyond mere entertainment, cinemas are sites of imagination and spaces of collective experience.

STRAND reveals more than a story of changing tastes and technologies. With so many people going to the movies, and probably as many screens as ever, why did all these theatres close? The camera crawls through the once-luxurious New Mission Theatre, darkened and papered over, hinting at its past magic, while celebrated film editor Walter Murch articulates his notion of the “mass intimacy” of cinema. We see the wrecking ball strike the fabulous 4,500 seat Fox Theatre, in contrast to the faceless office tower standing in its wake today, as essayist Rebecca Solnit enumerates the harmful dimensions of large-scale development on the urban psyche.

As a nation rewarded itself for it’s World War II victory with glorious suburban living at the expense of it’s cities, a new era in moviegoing was dawning—Repertory Cinema. It was defined by a burgeoning interest in film as art, not just in foreign cinema but also Hollywood classics and films lost to the ages. Pauline Kael’s origin as America’s towering voice in film criticism begins in the Bay Area; programmer Mel Novikoff turns a dingy neighborhood theatre called the Castro Theatre in the 1970’s into the country’s top venue for foreign and classic cinema; and Mike Getz’s Underground Cinema 12 midnight series inspires a generation with edgy, eclectic programming that defined Repertory cinema for the following decades.

Through this story STRAND uncovers links between civic spaces, sites of social contact and the demise of movie theatres. Residents are displaced in an act of “renewal”, old buildings demolished in the name of “progress”, independent businesses squashed by corporate chains, and the natural human scale of the city is surrendered to the automobile. These issues resonate with every American city.

Part analysis, part oral history and part urban travelogue, STRAND celebrates the urban experience and the “collective dream”--moviegoing.

A few of the key interview subjects include:

  • Jack Tillmany, author of "The Theatres of San Francisco" (Arcadia Press), and former programmer of the Gateway Cinema (1969-1980)
  • Film curator Anita Monga (Castro Theatre, York Theatre, Roxie Cinema, Palm Springs Film Festival, and more)
  • Academy-award winning editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, Cold Mountain)
  • Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust
  • Mike Thomas, film programmer (Strand Theatre, The Times, and more)
  • Wurlitzer organ restorationist Edward Stout
  • Author James Howard Kunstler (Geography of Nowhere)
  • Bill Banning, owner/operator of Roxie Cinema
  • and many more

Partial funding has been generously provided by the Pacific Pioneer Fund, the SF Arts Commission's Cultural Equity Grants and Film Arts Foundation's Fund for Independent Cinema.