MIDNIGHT EXCESS: Interview with Amos Levin, guest programmer of The Lonely Island Double Bill

As we start stockpiling Pro Plus for the next edition of SUPAKINO’s MIDNIGHT EXCESS (15 JUN 23:00+), we caught up with guest programmer Amos Levin to talk ROCKY, 16mm, ‘holy shit’ moments & The Lonely Island.


Twitter @radiantcircus | Instagram @radiantcircus

Amos Levin is a video editor, 16mm enthusiast and programmer for Deptford Cinema and the London Migration Film Festival. In the past 3 years he’s subjected audiences to an eclectic range of his favourite animation, new independent work, and 80s obscurities (highlights include Scott Barley’s SLEEP HAS HER HOUSE, Annik Leroy’s BERLIN and a Menelik Shabazz retrospective). Several of his friends – two in total – have called him “the future of cinema”.

Instagram @amoslevin | Twitter @amosjlevin

Here’s our RADIANT CIRCUS interview.

MIDNIGHT EXCESS #3: Interview with Amos Levin, guest programmer of The Lonely Island Double Bill (15 JUN 23:00+ at Rio Cinema).
MIDNIGHT EXCESS #3: HOT ROD, part of The Lonely Island Double Bill (15 JUN 23:00+ at Rio Cinema).

RADIANT CIRCUS exists to help people find their way to more adventurous moving pictures. How has your personal film journey evolved?

Every aspect of my working, personal, and movie-going life can probably be traced back to a moment of boredom in 2013 in the school library, when I wrote down a few big films I thought I should watch. This was really basic stuff like FIGHT CLUB, ROCKY, THE GODFATHER, etc. With the exception of animation I really didn’t think of myself as “into films” at the time, so that’s how it began: torrenting Fincher off Pirate Bay*. Pretty sure this is true of my entire generation. My casual interest quickly spiralled into countless hours browsing IMDb and Top 10 lists. I got a Cineworld Unlimited Card in late 2014, which marked the beginning of my cinema-going. Then MUBI changed my life, not only the programme but the insanely niche and beautiful user lists on there like “Lithuanian Cinema in 1947-1989”. Nowadays I constantly take advantage of London’s rep scene. I go out every night after work and will continue to do so until I turn 26 and no longer qualify for concessions. Last year I even travelled to festivals like Courtisane in Ghent and Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. It’s exhausting, and probably too much money, but a real privilege. I still haven’t watched ROCKY.

We love your cheeky/prophetic bio statement about being “the future of cinema”. If you – and the two friends that said it! – had your way, what would we all be seeing or doing more of?

It’s a very flattering title, bless my friends. It’s also really embarrassing! I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve it, because I’m far from radical. If, as you say, I had my way, I don’t know that I’d fancy myself as some arbiter of cinematic taste. Obviously I want people to watch what I’m passionate about but I’m not interested in imposing my taste on others. If I had my way, had unlimited executive power, I’d magically find a way to make all media accessible for free and all filmmakers would earn a comfortable living. If I had my way, institutions smaller than the MoMA could afford to curate risky and ambitious seasons. Film preservation and restoration would be globally standardised and regulated because there are some truly disgusting HD transfers out there. The list goes on, there’s too much to change. The more I learn about film distribution and exhibition the less it makes sense to me, and everything I hate about it keeps getting worse. Shoutout Disney!

How did your film fandom transition into projecting stories on the wall at Deptford Cinema?

Just a basic instinct to share, really! I used to attend casual meetings for the youths at the BFI (now known as BFI Future Film). The founders of Scalarama came down once to talk to us about programming. It was a real ‘holy shit’ moment. Back then I didn’t realise programming was even a thing, let alone a potential job. Helen MacKenzie of The Lost Picture Show told us about this new place in Deptford where anyone could put on films. Another ‘holy shit’ moment. When you absorb hundreds of films at home by yourself you eventually need an outlet, one that’s bigger and more public-facing than your two best friends. So I started programming there in early 2016, with some of my favourite films I thought should be better known, particularly animation like KIRIKOU and LE ROI ET L’OISEAU. And screening your favs is nice, but pretty quickly you realise programming has a lot of different functions. These days I’m trying to do more stuff where I deal with filmmakers directly, so without a distribution company in the middle. Not that those are bad or anything! I just want an excuse to give artists some money. Don’t ever give me a budget or I will PayPal all of it to the first person I can think of.

Annik Leroy's IN DER DÄMMERSTUNDE BERLIN, projected by Amos Levin at Deptford Cinema (23 & 24 MAY).
Annik Leroy’s IN DER DÄMMERSTUNDE BERLIN, projected by Amos Levin at Deptford Cinema (23 & 24 MAY).

We last saw you there wrangling 16mm projection with digital side-titles (if that’s the right word?) for the awesome Annik Leroy. How did that collab come about?

That is indeed the right word. It’s a pretty simple story, I saw her second feature VERS LA MER (1999) as part of the 2018 London Essay Film Festival organised by BIMI. Everyone had braved the snow to get there, it was a nice vibe. I learned that she was the focus of an upcoming retrospective at the Courtisane Film Festival in Ghent, Belgium. I had never heard of it before but the programme looked amazing so I decided to go on a whim. Their festival pass is €25, it’s insane! Anyway that’s where I watched Annik’s first film IN DER DÄMMERSTUNDE BERLIN (1980). I was really blown away, it’s such a beautiful, and sad, and intelligent film. I got in touch with her soon after, with help from the festival. Originally I was going to rent a print from the Belgian Cinematheque but it was ridiculously expensive, so she suggested that she come over for the screenings with her personal print instead. Thank God. She’s so great.

There seems to be something really special about projecting 16mm in the basement setting of an anarcho-collective community cinema. What makes you a fan of the format?

First off, I just like the look of it. 16mm has a very distinct softness that just makes me happy. And more importantly, I think its place in cinematic history is really varied and fascinating. It was the preferred format for low-budget, no-budget, documentary and experimental filmmakers around the world for a good half-century. So many films, silent films especially, survive only because they were released on 16mm for home viewing and turn up in some French dude’s attic after being lost for 80 years. A lot of smaller and avant-garde films are still shot on 16mm but some big studio movies are as well. CAROL, MOTHER!, and FIRST MAN for example. I just think it’s cool. Projecting it is really nice too, very intimate and mysterious. And I like the sound. Oh and Il Cinema Ritrovato is dedicating a programming strand to 16mm this year so my enthusiasm feels totally vindicated!

MIDNIGHT EXCESS #3: POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING, part of The Lonely Island Double Bill (15 JUN 23:00+ at Rio Cinema).
MIDNIGHT EXCESS #3: POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING, part of The Lonely Island Double Bill (15 JUN 23:00+ at Rio Cinema).

As we start stockpiling Pro Plus for the next MIDNIGHT EXCESS, why do you think some films work at midnight (and others not so much)?

I think when it’s midnight the unspoken agreement in the audience that we’re all here for the bants, so maybe there’s an openness and looseness you wouldn’t get otherwise? On the other hand… if you’re willing to fuck up your sleep and following morning for a movie, that’s dedication. That’s some respect. I can get quite self-conscious at the cinema so there’s films I prefer watching in bed on my laptop because it feels safer to react honestly. Midnight shows are probably a good attempt at recreating that feeling out of home.

You and Ranjit are bringing The Lonely Island to our midnight feast. The trio’s viral videos didn’t result in stellar box office success for their features, but both films now seem ripe for revival. What made them the right focus for this collab?

We both want Andy Samberg’s babies.

Finally, we’re gathering survival tips for midnight movies. How would you suggest our audience survives until the near-dawn?

I’m actually really shit at staying up! I expect the audience to know, good luck y’all!

MIDNIGHT EXCESS #3: The Lonely Island Double Bill is presented by SUPAKINO & Amos Levin at Rio Cinema (15 JUN 23:00+).

*Ahem… [Ed].

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