Show Me the Movies!

Jeff Yanc, program director for The Loft Cinema, is thrilled by recent updates, including a 70 mm projection system. Photo by Tom Spitz.

Show Me the Movies!
“There is an electrical thing about movies.” — Oliver Stone

If films are the current … then The Loft Cinema is where you go to get the juice. Since its inception more than 40 years ago, this plucky little art house has delighted, challenged, comforted, and made audiences think, bringing them a world they may not have discovered any other way.
Picking the movies to show at such an eclectic theater would be a dream come true for any film aficionado, and in many ways, it may have been a job that Loft Program Director Jeff Yanc spent all of his formative years working up to.
Born in Scobey, Montana, on the Canadian border, Yanc was exposed to the great outdoors early on. It was what was going on inside — on his family’s TV set — that most intrigued him, however.
“The first movie that really had an impact on me was definitely the 1933 version of King Kong,” he recalls. “I saw it on television when I was around eight year old, and I was completely obsessed with movies after that point. I think it gave me a certain slant toward genre films, too. It created this whole other world … I couldn’t quite believe that you could fabricate something so fantastic.”
Watching the giant ape challenge the world to a game of chicken has certainly introduced numerous generations to the wonders of the cinema. But because the film hides its prestidigitation so well, simply observing it doesn’t tell an audience anything about how it was made.
“I just wanted to be involved somehow, but at that age, I didn’t really have a concept of how people created a film. That’s why it seemed magical … like it was born fully formed.”
After a number of moves, Yanc wound up with his family living outside Benson, Arizona, where the prospects of a film career must have seemed as remote as the nearest skyscraper. “There was really nowhere to work during the summer, so you went to The Thing and got a job,” he says of his high school days working at the famous Southern Arizona attraction. “I loved it … that kind of kitschy roadside Americana stuff. I worked there for four summers during high school. I met a lot of interesting people … truckers, angry families traveling to Disneyland. I think I got a lot of good life lessons there. I really admired the showmanship, because I also love William Castle. His films were almost secondary to the selling of them. I think he would have really loved The Thing.”
Yanc chuckles when asked about the sorts of inquiries he gets from people when they find out that he worked there. “To this day, I am adamant about not revealing the secret to people who don’t already know. We had to take an oath saying that we would never reveal it, and I’ve held to that all these years. I just tell people, ‘You should really see it for yourself, shouldn’t you? Do you really want me to tell you? You don’t.’”
After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he stayed on to get his master’s in film theory and history. Though he wound up working in a number of other areas — even owning a bookstore across the street from The Loft — the current that runs through movies kept drawing him back. “When the position of program director at The Loft presented itself in 2006, that seemed to be the ultimate job for me. It involves watching a lot of films, helping to curate them, and presenting them to audiences.”
Though there are many excellent places around town to watch a film, the mission of The Loft includes exposing moviegoers to must-see works, bringing them up close to influential filmmakers, and helping to educate audiences about the movies. You’ll often see Yanc introducing a special screening and providing insights about the film, or he’ll sit down on stage for a one-to-one with a performer, director or producer. His radio actor’s voice and in-depth knowledge provide the perfect setup for an evening at the cinema, reminding a film buff that once upon a time we saw movies as a total experience.
“I think it’s important today, when you can stream everything on your phone, and download to your laptop, to bring back that theatrical experience. That’s one of my big goals at The Loft. That’s why I love doing the sing-alongs and any kind of audience participation and interaction with the screen; it makes it fun. Just seeing a movie with other people makes a difference. I’ve always been a fan of The Shining. I’ve found it to be a terrifying film. We played it as a cult classic, and I watched it with a pretty full crowd, and people were laughing a lot — not inappropriately. They were picking up on cues. It made me kind of reevaluate The Shining as a very dark comedy. Watching it at home alone I don’t think you give yourself the freedom to pick up on those cues.”
Among the things The Loft is doing that Yanc is most proud of are the Essential Cinema series — free screenings of classic films — and the Loft Film Fest, which presents the best of movies from different world festivals, as well as conversations with filmmakers.
And behind the scenes, there have been some exciting recent improvements, including the installation of a 70 mm projector so that great works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Wild Bunch can be shown in their original formats. Also recently added was a 35 mm reel-to-reel system so that more archived prints can be screened for Tucson.
With all the movies that Yanc has seen over the years, one would think he must have some favorites … and indeed, he does. “For me, a big film is Eraserhead, because it showed that there was a different kind of non-narrative filmmaking, and it opened up a world of films I never knew about. I watch that at least a couple times a year. Another one would have to be Psycho, and maybe a lot of people pick that with good reason. It’s a perfectly constructed narrative. And it shows you can have smart subtext in a film that seems like it’s about something lighter than what it actually is about. I like watching it for technique and how it’s put together. Those are two pretty dark films, so I guess that says something about me!”
Though he has met and interviewed many celebrities, there are several high-wattage filmmakers he never had the opportunity to have on The Loft’s stage.
“I’m really fascinated with Ed Wood,” he says, referencing the legendarily inept auteur who gave the world Plan 9 From Outer Space. “I would find it very interesting to talk to someone who was on the fringes of Hollywood but really wanted to be in the center. He never made it, but he ended up making accidentally distinctive films. I would have loved to talk to Hitchcock, and also Fellini. He’s a big favorite of mine. He had a kind of carnivalesque worldview that I find fascinating. I see a lot of people trying to replicate that, but he invented it and lived it. He was a larger-than-life character. I’d love to sit down for a pasta dinner with him. And then maybe burgers with Ed Wood.”  — Scott Barker