The Loft Cinema is Tucson’s very own art house – a gem for general movie-goers and local cinephiles alike. The location has been home to a Mormon temple, graduated to a pornography theater and now stands as the best movie theater in Tucson after being purchased by The Tucson Cinema Foundation.
Along with its monthly Rocky Horror Picture Show series and cult classics screenings, First Friday Shorts are a favorite among both filmmakers and film-lovers. Regarded as “the most fun you can have in Tucson with your clothes on" by attendees, the event is a competitive, interactive contest ruled by two entities: the audience and a gong.
Unlike the usual movie-going experience, audience members are encouraged to boo or cheer on shorts freely. The rules are simple: each film gets a three-minute grace period to play without interruptions from the crowd. If you are enjoying what is on the screen, you can yell "let it play" to keep it running. If not, "boo's" pressure the hosts to bang the gong and cut the screening entirely. At the end of all 15 screenings, the audience votes for a winner. The winning filmmaker receives a $200 check and will go on to compete for the end of the year prize of $1,000, according to the Loft Cinema website. Simple enough, right?
RELATED: The Gentlemen exceeds expectations
I have gone to a handful of First Friday Shorts events in the three years I have lived in Tucson, and every Friday is packed with the same energetic, eager-to-participate crowd. Friends, family, couples and solo-goers line up to grab popcorn and a hard kombucha before congregating in their group’s personal cheering section.
Last Friday’s event was much of the same zestful atmosphere. Hands down, my favorite part of attending the monthly contest is the passion exuded from every person in the room. Contestants stand before the crowd, microphone in hand, and explain the purpose, or sometimes lack thereof, behind their project. Some are endearing, thoughtful and heartfelt. Others may be as brief as “something dumb I threw together with my buddies last weekend," but the intention of the picture does not tend to sway the audience either way in regard to their expressed enjoyment or distaste.
Last week’s event showcased a variety of genres. From music videos to scripted fiction films and animated shorts, there was something for everybody to love (or hate). The one thing that shone through in every featured piece was a desire to entertain. That, paired with the viewers’ passion for local art, filled the venue with applause, laughter and lighthearted heckling.
At the show’s conclusion and after the large poster-board check is awarded, creators and connoisseurs have the chance to mingle and recap on their favorite bits from the night. Among the hustle and bustle, I was able to overhear compliments and criticism exchanged in the theater on my way out. The crowd was buzzing with love for the local film scene, making it obvious to me exactly how much this event means to the community.
Student filmmakers are also a large part of the monthly turnout. What First Friday Shorts means to Tucson natives also rings true to the student creators that come from all over to pursue their cinematic passions. In talking to a few of my University of Arizona School of Theater, Film and Television peers that were in attendance that night, it was clear how much the chance to present their work to a beady-eyed audience meant to them.
For student filmmakers, it's a rare opportunity to see your work on the big screen - even if they end up getting gonged.
The communal theatrical viewing experience offered to those who may not otherwise be able to witness their films on such a large scale is what keeps submission rolling in every first Friday. The sense of community and playful atmosphere is just another facet of Tucson’s unique and abundant art scene. The Loft is truly a major proponent of what keeps this magic alive.
Follow Selena Kuikahi of Twitter