Talking movies with the guy behind the Crappy Christmas film fest
By Catherine Warmerdam
After a months-long hiatus, Movies on a Big Screen—Sacramento’s microcinema project with a cult following—is back. Now in its sixth year, MOBS has landed at a new venue, The Grange Performing Arts Center, where cinephiles can gather to see cult classics, cutting-edge documentaries and the best (and worst) films that you can’t see
at the multiplex. In this interview, MOBS founder Robert McKeown talks about what films he watched as a youngster, how MOBS was born, and his passion to fill a niche in the city’s film scene.
What are some of the first movies you remember watching as a child?
It would have been Disney stuff like “Dumbo” and “Wizard of Oz.” I was pretty obsessed with “Wizard of Oz” when I was a kid. I would watch it when it was on TV every year. I was obsessed with cartoons, too, like Hanna-Barbera. When I was really young, one of the things that I wanted to be when I grew up was a cartoon character. I didn’t understand that they were drawings.
When did you turn from casual filmgoer to film buff?
It’s probably always been there. I don’t know that there was a transformation. It was fairly early that I started to take in interest in stuff that wasn’t necessarily superpopular. In high school, I worked in a movie theater. When I moved to Sacramento in ’85, I worked in market research and then became an assistant manager in a movie theater in the late ’80s. I was involved in “Rocky Horror” for years. It may have helped that I was from a town where there wasn’t much to do, so if you wanted to do something you either left town or you went to the movies.
Why did you start Movies on a Big Screen?
My wife and I were in the backyard drinking on the patio and complaining yet again about [films] that hit other metropolitan areas but don’t get to Sacramento because they’re a little too small for the Crest and there is nowhere else that would run them. There’s just all this great stuff that will play in San Francisco, Chicago or L.A., and I thought, let’s just do this.
What’s unique about the film-viewing experience when it happens with an audience in a theater as opposed to in one’s own living room?
There’s a communal experience that can exist when you’re in a theater. If you’re in a theater that’s absolutely empty and you’re the only person there, it feels completely different than when there’s multiple people. So there is this feeling that exists when you’re in a communal setting. With what we do, a lot of times people can walk in not knowing each other. But sometimes, after the film is over, people will talk to each other. You don’t really get that at a chain theater. That’s something really exciting for me to see happen. It’s so cool.
You’ve had a difficult time over the years finding a long-term venue to show your films. A lot of people would have thrown in the towel after hopping around so much. What keeps you going?
It’s certainly not money. This is not lucrative. It really comes down to the fact that this needs to happen in Sacramento. The thing that really supports that and does keep us going is the people. The feedback we get from people is really what it is, because there’s a lot of people that feel the same way, that this does need to exist, and they love the fact that it does. If we were to just drop it just ’cause it got too hard to do, I would just feel wrong about that.
How do you decide what kind of film is right for a MOBS screening?
I don’t know. There are things that will exclude it more than anything. If it’s technically unable to be projected because it is just so poor technically, like it’s the wrong frame rate, or it’s completely inaudible, that excludes it. The biggest thing is whether it’s able to be projected and whether we think it will be of interest to someone. There’s certain things that we do that are really helpful, especially with documentaries. If I see where we can connect with a local group to show it, then that’s gonna help a lot. There’s some stuff that’s just too expensive for us to run so we don’t.
Tell me about some of the upcoming titles you’re showing.
Every year we do something called Crappy Christmas, which is in December and usually done over three weeks. Two of the films change every year, and the one thing that we show every year is “Santa vs. Satan.” The whole idea of Crappy Christmas is that it’s older Christmas films originally aimed at kids, but they’re just wrong. Like “Santa vs. Satan” is a Mexican film from 1959. It’s really badly dubbed and it’s just bad.
Of course, not everything you show is meant to make audiences cringe. Tell me about your other programming.
It’s easy to get sidetracked with some of the wackier stuff we do, but the bulk of what we do is more serious—a lot of documentaries and a fair amount of independent film, with the older crazy stuff mixed in.
For more information about Movies on a Big Screen, including the annual Found Footage Festival on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at Hinde Auditorium on the CSUS campus (in conjunction with the Hornet Film Society), go to moviesonabigscreen.com.