This "bio" of The Secret Cinema was written in 1995, at the request of the Internacional Festival de Cine of Gijon, Spain. I was invited to show films at this long-running festival, and the organizers wanted me to explain to their audience exactly what the Secret Cinema does. The following appeared (translated into Spanish) in their festival program:


I started the Secret Cinema project in 1992 after sensing a need to expose new audiences to neglected films of all kinds. I'd been collecting film prints for 20 years, but previously had shared my collection with friends only at private gatherings. It was becoming apparent that there weren't enough repertory cinema outlets in my hometown of Philadelphia, and even the ones open then were ignoring a whole pantheon of "low-brow" yet fascinating genres: teen exploitation, rock 'n' roll, psychedelia, oddball black comedies, "golden turkeys," '70s nostalgia and a lot more.

I began a bi-weekly series of these films in the unused upstairs room of a local punk rock nightclub. After working out the logistics of hanging a large screen, lining up some chairs and sofas for seating, and carrying my own 16mm projectors to the club each week, a schedule was booked...and a new film venue, a "micro-cinema" with a capacity of around 55 people, was born. The local press was kind and by our fourth screening we had a sell-out, for The Touchables. I rounded out each program with "guaranteed unusual" short subjects, which included rare old theatrical shorts and campy educational reels.

The programming was expanded beyond obscure feature films, to include even harder-to-see celluloid treasures. Successful theme nights included "The Sugar-Charged Saturday Morning Supershow" (nostalgic early-'70s children's TV shows like The Banana Splits) and "Sitcom Rock" (a full night of television comedies from the 1960s featuring rock band guest stars or rock 'n' roll story lines).

Since then I have shown films in several locations around Philadelphia, ranging from a small living room to a 1000-capacity 19th-century burlesque theater. This summer I presented a night of the most secret cinema of all -- the home movies of total strangers, from the 1920s through the '70s. Currently I am programming monthly series at two different nightclubs with a third to be added soon.

The projected images of the past must be kept alive, and not just at select international festivals but in every city. Repertory cinemas continue to close and even universities with film departments are converting operations to video. As the media conglomerates abandon chemical-mechanical technologies in favor of direct electronic distribution schemes and "virtual" realities, it will be up to the cineastes and collectors to keep real movie screens lit, and to introduce new audiences to the joys of the collective film experience. That is the real mission of the Secret Cinema.

- Jay Schwartz