Coleman, 47, is film programmer for Facets Multimedia.
I was always interested in film, even as a kid. I remember staying up until three o’clock in the morning, black-and-white, Channel 9, watching all kinds of things. I wasn’t making any specific distinctions between who was directing the movie or any of the actors, but when I saw 2001—I was in eighth grade—that was life-changing. That film encompassed science, aesthetics, classical music, and I liked the studied approach to it. Basically, Kubrick didn’t have the ships moving at some prodigious speed simply for your own entertainment; he tried to re-create how a ship would be seen in real space-time. And the fact that the computer was the most “human” individual in the film. I loved the symbolism of the monolith. I was just completely shocked, but in the best way.
So when I went to college I joined Doc Films, primarily because I wanted to participate in them showing more films that I wanted to see. We would show films Fridays and Saturdays that would kind of subsidize our more adventurous pursuits. Sundays were all foreign films of various types, and then we would pick these eclectic but very specific programs for during the week, and we got a chance to follow our bliss in that way.
When I got the job at Facets I wanted to be in power to do the same kind of thing I was doing at Doc but on a grander scale. When I did Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, that was something out of the hallowed halls of historical legend, because it didn’t have a distributor at the time, and there was some controversy about who owned the regional rights to the series. I wound up having to go through Polish TV, and routing the prints through the UK to get the series here. And that was one of those things where people had heard about this extraordinary project, and I really wanted to show that series.
Most programmers have their own particular criteria. In my case, I’ve always been fascinated with the real independent filmmakers, the ones that work because they have a particular look at something that doesn’t necessarily follow the conventions of commercial interests. So I try to show those films as much as I can. In other cases it can come down to a certain trend going on in the marketplace of aesthetics, so I’ll try to see if that can be brought to Facets. I think that in many ways film demystifies cultural barriers; it’s like a universal translator. One reason I’m really keen on the rise of the documentary as a format is that it’s more responsive in that regard. A documentary is as complete a form by which to have a successful filmgoing experience as any you can name. It beats fiction by calculable degrees.
And I still like to show retrospectives, because people need to not be seduced by thinking that history is only made for historians. Film is like historical chapters, snapshots of the moment. You couldn’t have a film made in ’68 and see it today as it was made in ’68. It reflects its own period. It’s almost like a time capsule. And that’s why it’s such an enriching journey to go back into film and look at it from this standpoint.
One thing being lost is the art of conversation, of people seeing a movie and then actually having a good talk afterwards. It’s my experience that people want to see something and then make an instant opinion of it and then have dinner, and the movie never comes back into the talk. It’s something to do that they may mutually enjoy, but there’s no dialogue about it. And I think that film should be talked about the way you go to a book club. The reason I still have these Facets Film School classes is so people can have the skill set to see films in the cinema. People can watch films now on their computers, on television, video on demand. You have more distributors of various sizes, but there’s a simultaneity that’s going on: you have a film that’s being shown in the cinema that’s also available on video on demand. What’s lost is the experience of seeing a movie standing by itself, where everyone wants to see that movie and it becomes a must-see event. Because of that, certain films no longer have the power to impress people, that they have to see that film that day. Some people are perfectly willing to wait for the DVD. I don’t really find that to be an attractive development. But I’m still really optimistic about film being respected as the form of our times, and I do think there’s a lot of hope for people to return to the way film used to be perceived, as something to communicate what’s going on in the world around them. —As told to J.R. Jones