Experimental film and art venue Light Industry is located on Freeman Street, on the bottom floor in an unassuming apartment building on this tree-lined Greenpoint street. The movie theatre is led by a hearty team of two: co-founders Thomas Beard and Ed Halter curate the programming, cultivate the audiences, and maintain the performance space.
The space itself at Light Industry is white-walled and welcoming. Its simple appearance falls in line with the company’s ethos. “We have a very approachable space,” says Halter. “It feels modest, it feels like it is human scale — both Thomas and I feel inspired by the DIY scene.” Beard says that the screening room is a cinema reduced to its most essential values, with a white projection surface, a grid of folding chairs, and a couple of speakers. The screening room can accommodate up to 75 people. The theatre’s small team paired with its intimate space bring audiences closer to the programming. A patron once said that the experience of visiting Light Industry is like going to a film nerd’s basement. And that’s just what Beard and Halter were going for.
Having started in 2011, Light Industry screens unappreciated and rare films, paired with weekly lectures and conversation panels. Before relocating to Greenpoint, Light Industry operated in Sunset Park and also in Downtown Brooklyn.
“New York has a very storied tradition of cinematheques and alternative film venues,” says Beard. “Around the time we began, a lot of the more active micro-cinemas of the ‘90s and the early ‘2000s wound down. It seemed like there was a need for a new kind of space.”
“A lot of those spaces had been in Manhattan,” Halter says. “And there wasn’t a space like that exactly in Brooklyn that we wanted to go to. So we thought we would start one.”
“Light Industry very consciously wanted to be a crossroads for different kind of communities,” says Beard. “The two largest perhaps of these communities perhaps would be the art world—the audience for contemporary art in New York City—and film culture.”
Halter says, “The myriad of cinemas and the growing film industry are providing cinephiles and adventurous moviegoers with many viewing options—perhaps too many. I think Light Industry’s once-a-week model helps to focus people. We’re kind of like the little pizza shop that only makes one kind of pizza, so people line up and they want that one pizza.” He laughs. “This is an inefficient model for showing movies, for sure, but because we put a lot of care into the individual show, people come to trust us and they want to come see that film.”
Attracting audiences for rare films by some unfamiliar filmmakers can sometimes take effort. “It is our responsibility to make a case for the work that we are showing,” says Beard. “Simply showing good work is insufficient. An argument has to be made to convince someone that the film being shown is worth being seen, worth being remembered.” Light Industry distributes a weekly email newsletter with details of the carefully selected program. “The cultivation of the audience is as much of our job as the choice of the movies,” says Halter. There are thousands of people in New York who are down for challenging and unusual work, explains Beard. “You just have to let them know about it.”
Light Industry’s weekly e-blast and large social media presence has garnered a global audience, and fans of the organization from around the world come to Greenpoint to visit the space. “Even though we are an intensely local place, we have this international scope of people who follow us,” says Halter. Not having a space in a central area for moviegoing also helps to weed out uncommitted audiences, leaving only the impassioned moviegoers to venture to Greenpoint. Another perk of being in the neighborhood is restaurants that are open late after films end, particularly the nearby Lobster Joint (1073 Manhattan Ave).
Another avenue that Beard and Halter want to explore is the history of cinema in Greenpoint. Manhattan Avenue was once a strip of cinemas, including The Eagle, which is now home to Starbucks, and another inside the disco-ball Rite Aid. “One project we want to do is look into movie theatres that were pillars of immigrant life in the city over the past 100 years,” says Halter. “They were so important to the history of film culture in New York, and it is a history that is largely forgotten.”
With this audience, do Beard and Halter don’t have plans to expand?
“We’re not interested in becoming a regular cinema, that already exists here,” says Halter. “One thing that we are interested in is fostering film culture through publishing.” Light Industry has partnered with Anthology Film Archives to republish Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision, complete with commentary, corrections, and edits. Light Industry will be holding events for the book’s release in September, and supplementary programming will be at Anthology Film Archives, The Whitney, Metrograph, Quad Cinema, Museum of the Moving Image, and in cities around the world.