What a time it is to be a niche-film-loving New Yorker. In Williamsburg, there are the enduring genre stalwarts Nitehawk and Spectacle, the former a hip, food-and-drink-friendly venue, the latter a charmingly cramped space with $5 admission that welcomes paper bags barely hiding six-packs. In Chinatown, there’s the sleekly realized Metrograph, where you can cap your screening with steak tartare at the upstairs commissary. And in Greenwich Village later this year, the Quad Cinema, the city’s oldest four-screen theater, is slated to relaunch under the aegis of real estate developer Charles S. Cohen.
Downtown Brooklyn, fast being redeveloped, has now joined this cinema coterie. An outpost of Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse arrived last year in the Fulton Mall vicinity just before Halloween, ending years-long speculation of such a development in New York. The twenty-year-old company has such a fervent following that their newest location is guaranteed to have a built-in set of regulars. “We’re sort of lucky,” says chief programmer Cristina Cacioppo. “We didn’t have to spend a lot of time proving ourselves.”
Cacioppo is a shrewd viewer with a record of drawing New York audiences. From 2008 to 2013, she was a programmer at 92YTribeca, the since-shuttered downtown arts branch of the 92nd Street Y. From the beginning, she looked to the Drafthouse’s “unusual and crazy” model — particularly its embrace of genre material — for inspiration. “I felt like, in New York, maybe you had midnight movies at Sunshine, but you didn’t have this sort of thing,” she remembers thinking. “And so I was always salivating from afar: ‘Why doesn’t New York have this?'”
At 92Y, Cacioppo’s programming fused left-field material with enlightening guest speakers. When she invited Walter Hill for an appearance, she paired the conversation not with one of the director’s well-known cult properties (like the New York City–hopping gang escapade The Warriors), but with his suspenseful Vietnam War allegory Southern Comfort. “She created one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of,” says Max Cavanaugh, whose series “Basic Cable Classics” — a tribute to action-movie mainstays of the small screen that he and Andrew Miller originally put on in “bars and backrooms” — was given a more legitimate, 35mm-capable platform by Cacioppo at 92Y. Cavanaugh is now himself a programmer, at Nitehawk. “What makes Cristina unique is that she had an open door. Just the idea that we could go to someone and she would say, ‘Let’s do it!’ –– that was kind of an anomaly in New York.”
Cacioppo’s efforts were not lost on Alamo: The company hired her to spearhead a Manhattan location after 92YTribeca shut down. When that fell through, Alamo opened a spot in Yonkers, where Cacioppo worked before learning about the Brooklyn job. “It was a totally different audience up there,” she says of her time upstate, but “it was a good chance to get to know how the company works.” The Alamo programming identity she grew acquainted with traffics not in month-long, carefully themed retrospectives, but in weekly series — like the long-running “Terror Tuesday” and “Weird Wednesday” — in which the connections between the screenings are more random and diffuse.
But while in other cities these regular Alamo series are run by just one person, Cacioppo has maintained her open-door policy, recruiting figures of local renown to guest-program. In November, the horror writer Heather Buckley selected 1983’s The Deadly Spawn, an extraterrestrial monster romp set in her native New Jersey. In December, the Brooklyn–based director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip) picked 1969 oddity Dracula: The Dirty Old Man, because it had been an employee favorite during his years working at Kim’s Video.
For some of the city’s cinephiles, the Brooklyn Drafthouse — with its out-of-town branding and commercial setting — leaves Cacioppo with something to prove. So far, her selections have been up to the challenge. A couple “Weird Wednesdays” ago, she introduced a 1976 movie called The Witch Who Came From the Sea as a “downer.” A pair of endearingly corny 35mm trailers (a Cacioppo ritual) brought levity into the room, but the feature itself was an exercise in anxiety. In early scenes, the unhinged behavior of the protagonist (played by Millie Perkins) inspired kitsch-loving laughter not unfamiliar to Alamo screenings. But as Perkins and director Matt Cimber unfolded the character’s history of paternal abuse, the initial awkwardness made way for a grueling psychological excursion. “I was so curious to see how the crowd would react,” Cacioppo remembers. “It will certainly be the most upsetting film I’ll show for ‘Weird Wednesday.’ ” That’s Cacioppo’s sensibility in a nutshell: curious, open to surprise, and deeply invested in the people in her seats.