Born of frustration: LuxFilmLab revives art house movie audiences

LuxFilmFest artistic director Alexis Juncosa, pictured in 2018, says the LuxFilmLab series “shows audiences for art house films are eager to get back into the cinema.” 

The first Wednesday of every month a bunch of cinephiles gather at the Ciné Utopia to watch a previously unreleased film on the big screen as part of the LuxFilmLab series.

Back in the mid-1990s, before the 10-screen multiplex Kinepolis came along, Ciné Utopia in Limpertsberg was the place to be to watch films in Luxembourg. The intimate 5-screen cinema, housed in a converted garage, showed the latest Hollywood blockbusters as well as art house films and every Thursday evening hosted a “sneak preview” showing of a surprise film that had not yet been released. The regular sneak crowd all got to know each other and hung out in one of the local cafés afterwards to discuss the film they had just seen.

Fast forward 25 years and a similar scene is emerging thanks to a joint initiative between the Luxembourg City Film Festival and Kinepolis. The LuxFilmLab series has revived art house movie audiences, and its success has come as a pleasant surprise to the cinema’s management.

“It started from frustration,” says LuxFilmFest artistic director Alexis Juncosa. Because the first coronavirus pandemic lockdown started during the 2020 festival, several films that had been programmed were not screened. The solution, after cinemas were allowed to reopen under strict hygiene and social distancing measures, was to screen a selection of those “missing in action” films outside the festival setting but within a very specific context that would still relate to festival fans.

What was an experiment has now turned into a highly anticipated monthly event, and one that Alexis says justifies the faith placed in the idea by the management of Kinepolis. “It shows audiences for art house films are eager to get back into the cinema. In fact, we had several sold-out events and attendance is outstripping the blockbusters that have been released,” he explains.

One such case was the screening in April of The Father, which allowed LuxFilmLab audiences to be the first in the grand duchy to see Antony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance. And next up is another awards season favourite, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari which claimed best foreign language film at the Golden Globes and a best supporting actress Oscar for Youn Yuh-jung.

Watch the trailer for Minari here.

The films are chosen as a joint effort by the LuxFilmFest artistic committee and the programming team at Kinepolis. Early films included Australian western True History of the Kelly Gang, Iranian drama Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness and French horror comedy Mandibles.

But The Father and Minari are the sort of art house films that have crossover appeal. “These are two films that we would clearly have considered for the festival but that we couldn’t programme because of the timing of their general release,” Alexis explains. “LuxFilmLab allows us to make sure we don’t miss any big fish.”

The LuxFilmLab series is just one way that LuxFilmFest is continuing to “think outside the box” as Alexis puts it.  In January the festival was again part of the Journée de la Mémoire de l'Holocauste screenings across the grand duchy of Vadim Perelman’s Les leçons persanes and Paul Schrader’s Adam Resurrected, as well as a schools programme. It also organised a conference at the Cinémathèque featuring excerpts from Billy Wilder’s harrowing Death Mills film about the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945.

Meanwhile, the LuxFilmLab programme for July and beyond is being finalised with some very promising films in the pipeline, especially as cinemas in neighbouring countries open up and distributors get their schedules back on track, allowing for an even greater choice of films.

To check out the programme, visit the dedicated LuxFilmLab page on the festival website.

Declaration of interest: Duncan Roberts is a member of the LuxFilmFest artistic committee.