Last fall, the Library Foundation launched Lost & Found at the Movies, a new series to celebrate the art of cinema and the vitality of film culture. John Nein, a senior programmer of the Sundance Film Festival and curator of this new series, is focusing on lesser-explored areas of filmmaking to cultivate a conversation around film beyond the buzz of new releases. From unearthing historic photographs and film books from the Los Angeles Public Library’s archives to talking to some of Los Angeles’ biggest film nerds, Nein is combing the whole city for film treasures and bringing them to the stage. Free and open to the public at the downtown Central Library, the next event will take place this Friday, February 28th at 7:30 pm. All the events are built around a theme, so on the heels of Valentine’s Day this upcoming episode, Love is a Many Splendored Things, will explore love at the movies. We talked to Nein about some of his own movie loves and what movie-lovers can look forward to this Friday.
John Nein with Kenneth Turan.
Where did the idea for Lost & Found at the Movies come from?
Nein: Ken Brecher [President of the Library Foundation] first suggested doing a film culture series. There’s no shortage of great film-related events on upcoming releases, award seasons, and so on, but what excited me was the idea of bringing in anyone who has a passion for film—directors, writers, journalists, cinematographers, costume designers—to talk about personal cinema passions, perhaps even arcane interests that they don’t often have an opportunity or platform to talk about in any real depth. For instance, a filmmaker may get the chance to talk about their current work, but they don’t get the chance to talk about how much they love the Czech New Wave. We’ve imagined the series to be very eclectic in nature. You should feel like you’re flipping through a film magazine, but there’s a thematic connection within each event like an episode of “This American Life.”
You kicked off the first event by talking to film critic Kenneth Turan—a beloved and longtime voice in the film community. What “new” things did he have to say about film?
Nein: Kenneth Turan makes his living talking about films that are coming out, but what we talked about was Miyazaki, Max Ophüls, and how he loves this old 1920s French serialized film called “Fantomas.” We even got a chance to talk about Casablanca. We both appreciated that we could use clips and that’s what makes it engaging and fun for the audience.
Speaking of Casablanca, the upcoming event will take on the love story. What do you plan to explore?
Nein: The idea is to look at different kinds of love in movies and love for movies. Each segment of the night will have a different way of interpreting that. For example, we’ll be showing a couple of home movies of famous Hollywood couples like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. In another segment, I just spent a day driving all over Los Angeles to as many theatrical exhibition venues as I could manage in search of people whose passion is to show movies—places like the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Cinefamily, and the American Cinematheque.
Also, the special guest of the night is Stacie Passon who is the writer/director of Concussion, which I thought was one of the strongest films of last year that was overlooked by many. It’s a film that deals with love in a really sophisticated and difficult way. This is not movie warm and fuzzy, but Passon shows a way of depicting how profound cinema can be about human nature and relationships, and marriage in particular and we’re going to look through film history for the really rigorous takes on mature relationships (Rossellini, Cassavetes, Bergman).
Besides Concussion, what are some of the other movies you loved from last year that maybe we haven’t heard of?
Nein: We’ll talk about some of these on Friday, but Fill the Void is a completely unique love story that takes place in an ultra orthodox community in Israel—by virtue of being set there, I’ve never seen this type of film before and it’s a wrenching love story. The Spectacular Now is one of the most honest portrayals of teenage romance with all the edges. Cutie and the Boxer is one of the best documentaries from last year, and even though it’s nominated for an Oscar, it was overlooked by many. It’s so observant of mature love about a tumultuous marriage between two artists.
You spend the year travelling to film festivals around the world in search of new work to screen at Sundance. What are some great films we should be on the lookout for this upcoming year?
Nein: We’ll also talk about some of these films I’m most excited about this year on Friday, which won’t all be love stories like Calvary, which stars Brendan Gleeson as a good priest tormented by his townspeople. Lunchbox, set in Mumbai, is a love story between an accountant and a housewife that starts when the lunchbox she sends her husband inadvertently goes to the accountant. And Mike Leigh’s new film, which we assume will premiere at Cannes and is about J.M.W. Turner, the British artist.
Where do you see the rest of the series going this year?
Nein: We’re hoping to do an episode called “All About Evil,” which occurred to me when I was thinking about characters in the Coen brothers’ movies, but this will stretch way beyond that. I’m talking to Buck Henry about Shakespeare on film, and I think later this year we’ll do something about documentary portraits.
Last, but not least, the Oscars are this weekend. In your professional opinion, what’s going to win Best Picture?
Nein: Gravity. But I’m always wrong.
Learn more about the upcoming Lost & Found at the Movies. Admission is free and space is limited, so please make your reservations online early.