Every week, Jeffrey Babcock shows unique movies in English or with English subtitles at a number of venues in Amsterdam, as part of his underground cinemas. He talked to AmsterDO about the ideas behind the cinemas, the evolution of Amsterdam over the years and the new building for the Eye, among other things.
There was a time in which Amsterdam was one of the freest cities in Europe. At least that was the impression American-born Jeffrey Babcock had when he arrived to the Dutch capital in the late 80s and decided to settle here. “I came to Amsterdam at a time when Amsterdam was an incredibly tolerant and diverse city. There was a normal economy, one in which you had a normal job in an office or a store, and there was also another possibility, and people could really choose how to live their life.”
That other possibility was based on squatting and the refusal to enter the dominant business model, but things have been changing over the years. “I saw here in Amsterdam so much culture that was disconnected from business, in terms of cinema and everyday life, and I wanted to keep that alive. I see myself refusing to be incorporated into the mainstream commercial business model. That’s why I created a series of cinemas throughout the city.”
The cinemas he refers to are a series of places that host regular screenings, such as De Nieuwe Anita, OT301, De Slang, Filmhuis Cavia or Wilhemina Pakhuis. They are free or reasonable prized, and the movies range from “big budget films to absolute trash films,” from American ones such as Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” to the first Lars Von Trier movie, “The Element of Crime”. “The only real criterion is that every film I show has something absolutely unique about it, which makes it different than any other movie ever made. It could be a trashy movie, have no budget, or could be a big film, as long as it is not a formula.”
The idea behind the cinemas, as it happens with all good things, is quite simple: to gather together around a movie. Jeffrey introduces the movie and is available for discussion afterwards. The small sizes of the locations favour a sense of intimacy and friendship. “What I’m trying is to get people back together again, and experience things and dream together. Watching a film is like being in a dream and I think it is very important to be in a whole room with people going through that experience together. And of course it is very important that people stay afterwards and discuss the movie, that there is a social interaction going on.”
He is critical with the art house cinemas in Amsterdam, which he considers too tied to business, with some exceptions, like Kriterion (“because it is run by students and is always changing, this keeps it more alive.”); and he also doesn’t have good words for the brand new building of the Eye Film Institute. “The previous building was one of the best of the city, right in the city centre. The problem was that the programming was so bad that they couldn’t get people going there, so they thought that they had to start a new project, which became a bigger building. For me this is doing it all backwards. I don’t believe that bigger is better, but everything is built in that direction. They are trying to make Amsterdam bigger, but the charm of Amsterdam is its size.”
Jeffrey Babcock has been running the underground cinemas for seven years now, starting at a squat in the city centre and continuing at De Nieuwe Anita, with sustained success. He announces the program one week in advance, so you haveto check the different locations websites regularly or, even better, drop him an email to be included in the mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org).