The Trylon Cinema: Minneapolis’ hidden hope for eccentric and repertory film

The Trylon Microcinema’s theater, which seats only 90 people // Photo by Daniel Murphy

J

ohn Moret’s position as the Trylon Cinema’s film programmer fits him like an old roll of 35mm film fits into an antique projector.

The cinephile grew up watching a movie nearly every day and eventually went on to run the Landmark Lagoon Cinema from 2006 to 2015, where he also got his start. His focus was on repertory cinema, programming that curates and revives interest in notable older films.

At the Trylon, it’s all about the vintage and hard-to-find films—and he loves it.

“My favorite thing is when we can introduce an audience to a new film that they will then love that they didn’t know about,” Moret says.

Reels of film sit on shelves in the projection room of the Trylon Microcinema // Photo by Daniel Murphy

This year alone they’ve shown films such as “Harakiri” (1962) about an old ronin samurai, and this summer will feature showings of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973) starring Lawrence Cook, who plays a secret black nationalist who infiltrates the CIA.

They’ve also opened their theater to other organizations such as Tape Freaks, Sound Unseen, and Trash Film Debauchery, which screens some of the strangest films you’ve probably never seen. Take for instance, the 1973 Turkish cult (and totally unauthorized) superhero movie, “3 Dev Adam,” screened this past February, in which Captain America, his girlfriend Julia, and Mexican superhero wrestler Santo face off with the villainous Spider-Man and his gang face off in the streets of Istanbul. Besides expanding the breadth of films shown at the Trylon, the partnership between these organizations is a win-win. The organizations get a theater to screen films, the Trylon provides the staff, and both parties split the door.

The idea for the Trylon came from executive director Barry Kryshka, who wanted to give Minneapolis a taste of the New York repertory film scene that shows hard-to-find independent and classic films. He came from the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis, which had its own classic film programming until 2005 when management began searching for someone to buy the property (it closed in 2010 and was demolished in 2011.) At that time he left (along with the rest of the staff) and started the 501(c)3 nonprofit Take Up Productions, which showed films in different places such as libraries and coffee shops. Then in July of 2009, the Trylon Cinema opened its doors to the public.

“We opened with a set of Buster Keaton films,” Moret says.

As it turns out the silent film legend was the perfect choice, as there were some crucial technical difficulties that would take time to be addressed.

The day before we opened, TJ Hopland, who worked tirelessly, and sometimes tirefully, to design and construct our projection booth and all the equipment in it, said, ‘You open tomorrow with a silent, right? That’s good news, because sound won’t be working for quite a while,’” Kryshka says.

The front entrance of the theater, just off the intersection of Highway 55 and E 33rd Street // Photo by Daniel Murphy

Since then the Trylon has carved out a niche as an alternative to chains like AMC Theatres and services like Netflix that have relatively sparse classic film selections. And while there are other growing subscription services such as Film Struck, Moret still believes in the magic that can happen at a movie theater.

“The cinema is sort of the last sanctuary in the U.S. away from technology,” he says, referring to the invasive nature of smartphones and social media. “And I think that it is really a transformative experience for a lot of people.”

As the programmer, Moret is in charge of that experience, and it’s something everyone at the Trylon takes very seriously. For him it’s all about building a series around a single film. Once he identifies that keystone film, he sets off on the search for the print, which isn’t always easy. The recently finished “The Heavy is the Everyman: The Films of Warren Oates” series was two years in the making.

“I really, really, really fell in love with ‘The Hired Hand’ maybe two years ago,” he says. The only problem was the print was in Europe, so he had to wait a year until it was back in Universal Studios’ archives.

Then he started thinking about what other films he could pair it with. To Moret, when you build a series around a single film there are many different directions you can take such as block of similar crime films or films that share certain themes. And as he gradually went through Oates’ filmography it started to dawn on him how great his movies were. So he included other Oates films such as “Race with the Devil” (1975) where he co-stars with Peter Fonda, and “Cockfighter” (1974) where he stars alongside Laurie Bird and Harry Dean Stanton.

Above: The poster wall in the small lobby of the Trylon Microcinema. Below: The ticket desk complete with popcorn, snacks, and drinks // Photos by Daniel Murphy

Series like the Warren Oates one are a gamble, because he’s not exactly a household name like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn. So how does one keep the doors open if a particular series doesn’t do well? Besides the fact that the staff are volunteers, the Trylon doesn’t just stick to one genre. They also have events that enable them to take risks when they want, like their annual Minneapolis Hitchcock Film Festival during the months of March and May, where they also partner with The Heights and Riverview Theaters.

“If they do well, then I have to worry less about the Warren Oates films not doing well,” he says. “Those are the ones that I’m programming because I really want to see them on screen, and I’m hoping that other people will want to, too.”

Related Post: Craft Culture: Preserving the magic of motion pictures with Bob DeFlores

The eclectic nature of the films they show also help them be inclusive to moviegoers of all ages. It’s been one of their goals from the beginning. And it was also part of the reason for their recent expansion  into a 90-seat theater with all brand new seats, including wheelchair access, and a proper lobby and concession area. The seating itself was to make it a more enjoyable experience for older generations.

“We wanted to change that because what we do is a lot of classic film,” he says. “And by doing classic film, your audience tends to skew a little older.”

There was also a practicality to it, too. In order to afford the films, they needed to be able to let more people attend each showing or they wouldn’t be able to stay open. Especially when those films are hard-to-find 35mm prints, which they want to show more of down the road.

“That’s just more expensive so you need more seats to be able to make that work,” he says.

While they do rely on the box office for revenue, they do have other avenues, too. They receive donations from the public, and they receive a share of box office profits when they have a showing at another theater, such as The Heights Theater. Moret is also in charge of venue rentals, and they also do more unique events as well.

“By seeing it on film you see the scratches and the bumps, and you feel the person behind you going from projector to projector. There’s something about it where, to me, it’s a performance.”

– John Moret, Trylon Cinema’s film programmer

 

“This year we did a horrorthon, which was an all-night horror marathon,” he says. “And as people would stay, their friends would pay per hour [for however] long they could stay.”

All the money goes back into the Trylon so Moret and the staff can keep on providing an escape into the obscure films of yesteryear. They want everyone to be able to experience what cinema used to be in all its glory and imperfection.

“By seeing it on film you see the scratches and the bumps, and you feel the person behind you going from projector to projector,” he says. “There’s something about it where, to me, it’s a performance.”

On the surface it doesn’t look like much in a world of full of giant IMAX screens and 300-seat theaters. But the staff at the Trylon put their heart and soul into to providing people an experience they’ll never forget. It’s a gift from film lovers to film lovers.

“Whenever you come to the Trylon, whatever you come for, will have been carefully chosen,” he says. “It’ll be carefully presented, and we’ll be doing our very, very best to respect what it is that we’re putting on screen.”