As far back as I can remember I’ve always been doing something with projection, from organising slide shows as a small child to later editing my grandfather’s 8mm home movies. Thinking that working with 35mm film was the best, it was no surprise that one day in 1996 I offered my services to the local art house cinema in my home town of Leeuwarden.
Stan, the friendly head projectionist who became my teacher, showed me how to work the different reels into two handy, hour-long spools that the old FP4 projector could handle. Longer spools were impossible because the ceiling was too low. One could hardly turn one’s back because of the other projector. All this was accompanied by a two bladed non-rewind table and a derelict 16mm projector. The non-rewind table makes it possible for you to project a film without a break, simultaneously saving you the need to rewind the film because of the way it is wound up. But the cramped booth was a nuisance only on hot summer days – the space was just within regulations and none of us ever thought of any danger.
The training lasted a couple of months, during which I was quizzed as the weeks passed while Stan watched me closely as I handled the reels. I had to know how to set up a cinema as well as the mechanics of our theatre. It came down to being able to solve every problem on my own, from projection errors to seating regulations and applying coffee breaks during long films. Since it worked only with 35mm we theorised 16mm. My first ‘solo’ movie was Black Cat, White Cat, shown in the large room packed with 72 film fans and gypsies. Solo meant that for four screenings one night you worked instead of Stan, who didn’t lift a finger to help you. Nobody but Stan noticed the error I made in pasting reel four onto five.
There were six of us including Stan, the only one who had an official licence. After I passed my ‘test’ I was awarded Thursday night and one Saturday a month. Everybody had a fixed night and a rotation on Friday and Saturday nights. We always worked alone and once the second projector got started, there was no time to relax. We were doing four screenings per night and rewinding the reels as we projected. Because we could only show an hour at a time, there was a minimum of eight reels to rewind. On Wednesdays the films had to be cut back into the boxes for transport on Thursday morning; but this also meant that on Thursday sometimes up to three films still had to be assembled when my shift started at 7:00 p.m. This led to ‘cowboy projection’ – not projecting reel by reel, but assembling the second half while the first half was winding down at 24 frames per second; changing lenses due to the different film formats of the trailers or operating a slideshow when changing reels. Stan wanted us to be able to do a reel change in under a minute. We all could.
Before long I was working film festivals too, first the one organised by our film theatre in my home town, but later also the International Film Festival Rotterdam. I was right, 35mm was the best. Nobody minded the hard work of up to 16 hours a day, assembling and disassembling up to 900 (!) film titles a fortnight. With festivals the pay was so good that some traded workdays from their regular jobs. It was also during festivals that I learned to work with 16mm, again under the guidance of an elder, wiser and certified projectionist. Being an 8mm filmmaker, working with 16mm was easy. The audience generally doesn’t know whether it sees a 16mm or a 35mm film, especially at large film festivals. The only drawback of 16mm I can recall is that you have to pay more attention since the projector is rougher on the film.
In 2003 I emigrated to Honduras, where I set up Cine Campesino, a rural mobile film festival in the village of El Pital, in the Cangrejal river valley. Projecting films on social themes to people without access to electricity led to unexpected outcomes. In one town there was a man crippled in an accident during his illegal trip to the USA. The proceeds from La Ciudad meant he was able to buy a prosthetic limb. Unfortunately 8, 16 or 35mm film is hardly available, so the cartoons, shorts and feature films were all shown in VHS or DVD.
One hundred and eleven film festivals later, in 2008, I left Honduras and started working again as a projectionist in Hilversum. I gave up the job in 2010, when the film theatre I worked for announced they were changing their whole set-up and starting in 2012 would show every new movie digitally. To a remark intended as a joke, the serious reply was: ‘Yes, in the future the cashier will start the films using her iPad’. While working on the Noordelijk Film Festival in November 2011 I counted the digital and analogue films. They were evenly split. Although my current colleagues don’t know what an ‘operateur’ is, my children on the other hand do. In the winter I take out the 8mm projector and some old Laurel and Hardy films and let them have a go at the lost art of projection.
© copyright caboose 2012
Ronald Reinds was born in 1975 in The Netherlands and partly raised in Colombia. He has always had an inclination for the audiovisual. As a nine-year-old boy he figured out a way to project slides without causing a shadow from the spectators. When his second grandfather died he inherited his 8mm equipment and film. The first thing he did was re-edit his final film and thereby fully develop the seed of the projectionist. He studied audiovisual design in the late 1990s and started to work for Dutch national television. Not fully interested in that line of work, he started working for the Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision. At the national television archive he really learned to work with 16mm film. In 2003 he emigrated to Honduras and set up Cine Campesino, a travelling film festival for rural communities. He remigrated to The Netherlands in 2008 and was able to resume his old work. One of the tasks he had was restoring and digitising the 4000 films of the Smallfilm Collection. When this work was over, he worked for a year as a picture researcher for a broadcasting company. At the moment he is digitising the audiovisual archive of Docters without Borders and is studying to become a math teacher.