Art houses are out. Micro cinemas are in. These small, super-independent venues for showing underground films from across the country and around the world are on the rise throughout the United States. Filmmakers off the mainstream map can now bypass corporate distributors and get their films directly to audiences through a growing, though still loosely affiliated, network of independent "curators."
Now Denver has its very own micro cinema, the Urban Xen Film Garden, which aims to attract young, film-loving urbanites to monthly screenings that offer so much more than the weak fare coming from Hollywood. For creator Ashara Ekundayo, Urban Xen will bring a bit of badly needed culture to Denver, especially to its underserved communities of color, whose members she says are looking for more sophisticated images of themselves on the screen. "Hopefully, we'll make this the place to be on the third Wednesday of each month," she says of Urban Xen's home at the Acoma Center in the Golden Triangle.
The cinema will offer feature-length films and shorts once a month through next March; in April, Ekundayo will oversee the third Denver Pan African Film and Arts Festival, take a few months off, then crank up her film salon at the end of next summer. This month, Urban Xen will air 30 Years to Life, a film about successful African-American friends in New York approaching their thirtieth birthdays. "Here are some beautiful, young, successful black people," Ekundayo says. "Hollywood is not going to show you that. I will."
Last month the cinema kicked off its inaugural season with Spike Lee's latest film, A Huey P. Newton Story, about the co-founder of the Black Panther Party in Oakland. The film, which stars longtime Lee collaborator Roger Guenveur Smith, is a based on a one-man play Smith wrote and performed. The inaugural screening, which Smith attended, was packed. Ekundayo wonders if it was the "combination of a Spike Lee film and the fact that it was free." (Future screenings will cost $8.) It could just be a sign that Denver is ready to behave like a grown-up city.