L.A.’s Former Cinefamily Theater to Open as Fairfax Cinema (First Look)

77-Year-Old Silent Movie Theater Remade as Fairfax Cinema - Publicity - H 2019
Sam Frost/Courtesy Fairfax Cinema

Amid criticism of past mismanagement, two of the co-founders are remaking the 77-year-old Silent Movie Theatre with 'Uncut Gems' on the bill.

After the Cinefamily ceased operations at Los Angeles' Silent Movie Theatre in 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations, the venue's landlords, Dan and Sammy Harkham, decided to reopen it themselves. On Christmas Day, after a year-long full renovation, the rechristened 163-seat Fairfax Cinema debuts with a showing, exclusively in 35mm on the West Coast, of Uncut Gems, from Dec. 25 to Jan. 9. The film's directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, will guest-program eight other films during the run at the new cinematheque-style venue. (After this article was first published, A24’s Uncut Gems was pulled from appearing on the bill at the Fairfax Cinema.)

"I'm excited to be making a theater that can create a context for films of various decades and fold into someone's cultural diet," says Sammy Harkham, a cartoonist and graphic novelist (and editor of the Kramers Ergot comics anthology series) and the for-profit theater's creative director. “I felt like this was something worth preserving — a local single-screen theater."

The two-story building, opened in 1942 and located at 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, will include an outdoor patio, bookstore, cafe and art space. Harkham worked with Alejandro Artigas and Melissa Ritchie on a redesign that added contemporary elements — including white oak finishes and green and teal tones — while still, he says, respecting the structure’s midcentury design. “We didn’t want it to feel like a nostalgic space, and we also didn’t want it to be super-modern,” says Harkham.

New signage on the marquee includes a circular neon display with a text logo of the cinema’s name designed by L.A.-based graphic designer Claire Hungerford and, on the reverse, an image of a hand holding an eyeball by Canadian artist Shary Boyle. There’s also a large neon squiggle front and center on the building, a graphic image that Hakrham said was inspired by both “Russian graffiti from 1991 or 1992 on Instagram” and “a diagram of a certain kind of moss I saw at the Museum of Jurassic Technology.”

Harkham says additional filmmakers, plus film experts, institutional partners, writers and artists, will program the theater going forward. “We’re honored to be part of the launch of Fairfax Cinema," says Josh Safdie, "It is rare for a theater to offer delicacies both high and low with no superficial distinction between films. We respect the genuine intention to spread the obsessive cinephilic bug."

As to ongoing criticism in the film community about mismanagement of Cinefamily, which the Harkhams co-founded — the Harkham brothers were board members and Dan served as treasurer of the nonprofit — Sammy Harkham says, “We helped put [Cinefamily] together but it wasn’t our project. We never ran Cinefamily and our involvement was limited.” He adds that he and his brother “were always looking forward to the day when we would get the space back.”

A number of former employees and members dispute the assertion by Sammy Harkham that he and his brother Dan’s involvement in Cinefamily was limited. Jackie Gomez, a former office manager at Cinefamily, tells THR that “The Harkhams were very much involved in the theater.” And Jon Zerolnick, a former Cinefamily member who runs the Cinefamily Accountability website, said, “What floors me is that [the Harkhams] are taking the line that they had nothing to do with Cinefamily. They had an institutional responsibility to exercise oversight as board members.”

Dec. 19, 1:15 pm Updated to include that, after this article posted, A24’s Uncut Gems was pulled from appearing on the bill at the Fairfax Cinema. And a number of former employees and members dispute the assertion by Sammy Harkham that he and his brother Dan’s involvement in Cinefamily was limited. Jackie Gomez, a former office manager at Cinefamily, tells THR that “The Harkhams were very much involved in the theater.” And Jon Zerolnick, a former Cinefamily member who runs the Cinefamily Accountability website, said, “What floors me is that [the Harkhams] are taking the line that they had nothing to do with Cinefamily. They had an institutional responsibility to exercise oversight as board members.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.