The Curtain Closes

June 2015 – June 2023

After hosting 130 film screenings over the last 8 years, I have decided to finally close the velvet curtain on Cultivate Cinema Circle. During the spring of 2015, I had reached out to fellow local film critic Jared Mobarak about an idea I had for bringing more art cinema, documentaries, and film classics to Buffalo, as I had been attending film festivals like Sundance and TIFF and was feeling like there was little access to what was shown at major film events like these for local cinephiles unable to make the significant out-ot-town trek. There had been many past examples of wonderful film programming in Buffalo, but in the few years after I had moved to Buffalo in 2009, there wasn’t a whole lot on offer. We decided to form Cultivate Cinema Circle with the following ambitions:

“Our mission is to help foster a healthy, fervent film culture in the Buffalo area by presenting the best that cinema has to offer—works selected for their excellence, cultural diversity, political relevance and historic value. In doing so, we hope to provide a space for public engagement, community discussion and celebration of empathy via the seventh art.”

It was a valiant and lofty goal that I feel in some fleeting moments we achieved. And yet, more than anything this project has been a personal learning experience. My knowledge of cinema expanded exponentially as I watched, read and wrote about an honestly unhealthy amount of movies. My abilities as an event organizer were endlessly challenged as we worked with various venues, distributors, equipment lenders, filmmakers, community partners, sponsors, promoters and members of the press to make these events happen month after month. With no specific venue to call home and no devout financial backers to lift the weight of accounting from this curatorial endeavor created to fill a cultural community gap, we had to be infinitely creative to make it work.

In the end, the self sustaining, community supported film series in the lineage of Amos Vogel’s groundbreaking Cinema 16 or Richard Linklater’s massively successful Austin Film Society that I had envisioned turned out to just not be possible here in Buffalo. But, what Jared and I were able to accomplish in our spare time outside of our day jobs for the shear love of cinema, I am immensely proud of. There are so many special moments that came to fruition for me through this series that it would be impossible to list them all here, but a few notables include hosting retrospectives on the work of Agnès Varda, Christian Petzold, and Sébastien Lifshitz in Buffalo for the first time; bringing incredible documentary filmmakers like Doug Block, Fredrik Gertten and Jessica Oreck to our humble city to present their work in person; very special showings of Days of Heaven and The Passion of Joan of Arc at the North Park Theatre; and putting together our extensive Women Direct series in collaboration with Hallwalls. As a young art cinema lover who grew up on a small indigenous reservation in Salamanca, NY with only a small video rental shop available to satiate my cinema sweet tooth, any and all of these events would have been a dream come true.

To anyone who donated their time to speak, product to share, venue to host, or money to fund this endeavor: thank you oh so much. And to those who made a conscious effort to attend any of our events, I hope we brought a little something special to your experience of living in Buffalo. And to Jared—thanks for indulging in my silly idea and sharing your great gift of design and cinema wisdom to help make this project the best that it could be. I wish I had better news, but sometimes you just need to acknowledge that the end has arrived. We tried, and I guess that’s better than not.

— Jordan M. Smith

It’s a bittersweet feeling to both look back in awe that Jordan and I were gifted eight years of Cultivate Cinema Circle thanks to the generous support of so many local partners and disappointment that it must unfortunately come to an end. To have experienced full houses at WNY venues like North Park Theatre, Hallwalls, and Squeaky Wheel for films that we programmed makes it all worth it, though. Especially when you consider the breadth of talent we sought to highlight in alignment with our mission: contemporary voices like Dee Rees, Kirsten Johnson, and Ramon Zürcher alongside legends of cinema like Satyajit Ray, Agnès Varda, and Josef von Sternberg. Even if it’s now just in the context of our website’s archive, working to put those names together is something we can take pride in. So too can those of you who came out to see for themselves why we felt they deserved such recognition before graciously sharing your own reasons with us.

We screened 16mm experimental shorts thanks to the wonderful Stephen Broomer. Politically charged documentaries amongst Burning Books’ shelves. Criterion-approved classics and box office behemoths alike. What a journey it was through every corner and genre of the medium whether on Saturday afternoons at the library, late nights on Hertel Ave., or the many times/places in between.

My heartfelt thanks go to you for taking a chance on our curatorial sensibilities. Those who stood by our sides to help simultaneously foster our own ongoing cinematic education on the big screen. And most of all to Jordan for truly leading the charge and putting everything into the behind-the-scenes chaos of licensing films, scheduling venues, coordinating with sponsors, and putting the posters I designed up all over downtown to fill the grassroots gaps social media promotion left open. I feel privileged to have been able to come along for the ride and meet so many wonderful new friends all while having a blast distilling each title into singular images that I’m humbled to know people enjoyed enough to take home.

We hope you will all still hold onto the magic of cinema and the theatrical experience with us. CCC may be over, but that passion can never die.

— Jared Mobarak