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Arts & Entertainment

Spacy, the New ‘Microcinema’ in Tyler Station, Brings DIY Ethos to the Theater Experience

The 35-seat theater is using its programming and size to set itself apart in the Dallas cinema scene.
By Austin Zook |
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Tyler Station in the Elmwood neighborhood of Oak Cliff, which houses the city’s first “microcinema.” Matthew Shelley

In the heart of Tyler Station, Tony Nguyen is redefining the theatrical experience for Dallas.

The location may not seem like an obvious choice for a movie theater; the renovated mixed-use building, next to a DART line, looks very much like the factory it was built to be in the 1920s. But Tyler Station could not be better suited to Nguyen’s adventurous Spacy microcinema, a 35-seat single screen theater located near a bike shop and a few paces from a brewery.

In recent years, Tyler Station has become a haven for entrepreneurs, business owners, and creatives in Dallas to work and express themselves. “I thought it worked well [for Spacy],” says Nguyen. “There’s…a myriad of businesses there and they’re all extremely supportive of each other. And I really love that environment.”

Microcinemas are smaller, more nimble exhibition spaces for films. They are typically low budget operations that can screen films in unconventional spaces. Because they don’t have to worry about the overhead costs that come with operating a large multiplex, they are able to be more daring in their programming, shining a spotlight on niche films. Nguyen believes that Spacy is the first theater in Dallas to fully commit to this concept.

Spacy opened earlier this month, with Nguyen handling the programming and operation of the venue. Long-term, he hopes the theater becomes a staple of the local community and reaches a point where it can be led by volunteers. In the meantime, however, he is the “one-man show” behind it.

While this is his first time running a theater, Nguyen previously worked as a programming coordinator for the Dallas International Film Festival, and currently programs the Austin Asian American Film Festival. He sees the microcinema concept as a path forward for movie theaters in an uncertain landscape.

“I think, with how many dying institutions, like mom-and-pop independent theaters, [and] the strikes going on… We’re just seeing [that] the film industry right now is just…not sustainable. And there has to be ways that we reimagine how we all work together [and] how we all exhibit.”

From concept to realization, Spacy is a unique experience in Dallas. You reach it by entering Tyler Station’s lower level (by Oak Cliff Bike Synergy) and follow signs past fenced-in spaces used by other tenants. In place of a lobby, Nguyen sells tickets and concessions just outside his screening room in a common area he shares with two other organizations renting space in this part of Tyler Station. 

The screening room itself is reminiscent of a classroom; it occupies one room with 35 chairs arrayed in rows facing a projector screen. The walls are white and mostly barren, with a poster for 1975’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles greeting visitors as they enter. (Sight and Sound in 2022 declared that film to be the greatest of all time.)

When it is time for a screening to begin, Nguyen uses his laptop to manually select trailers to play, and then begins the film. The entire setup and process is a compellingly DIY affair; there’s no man behind a curtain making things happen, just someone who loves cinema trying to show people what it can be. It’s an intimate experience, one that Nguyen hopes will foster a sense of community among attendees.

“I want it to be an alternative [exhibition] space,” says Nguyen. “Showing…a huge range of what the moving image could look like and feel like.”

When deciding what to screen at Spacy, Nguyen says he is trying to make the theater stand out from its peers. While he feels that “genre” and “cult” films are well-represented by local theaters, the microcinema is an opportunity to bring something new to Dallas.

“I think there needs to be more of a range of what can be seen in the city, just because I think…there’s more beyond that,” he explains. “I’m trying to, of course, bring a lot more…international films [to Dallas].” Nguyen says he is, “always trying to play…very niche and underseen gems, because…they deserve a spotlight.”

But Spacy is not just a place to catch foreign films; Nguyen wants to provide a home for local filmmakers to showcase their work and also “broaden the horizon” for what the theatrical experience can be. While he’s still figuring out what that looks like, he has ideas: “I think it could be, like, showing…skating videos, or maybe pairing the movie experience with, like, perfume.”

In September, Spacy will begin screening a 6-film series called “Lovers, Perverts, and Transexual Menaces: Six Films by Rosa von Praunheim” in collaboration with queer film historian and programmer Elizabeth Purchell. Praunheim is a German filmmaker whose name will likely be unfamiliar to most American audiences, though his career goes back 50 years and encompasses more than 150 films, documenting “queer history and sensibility” throughout the decades.

“It’s very punk,” says Nguyen. “Very queer. It’s…phenomenal…narrative and documentary features.” The films being shown are “rarely screened outside of Germany” and representative of the underseen work that Spacy will focus on bringing to audiences.

While Nguyen is still navigating the best path forward for his microcinema, balancing niche films with better-known works to help build an audience. He’s identifying partners in the community to help spread the word about the venue

“Overall…people have been extremely supportive,” he says. “I think that it’s…really great to see that people are encouraging and excited about alternative spaces, because I think we just need more of them. And I hope this becomes, like, a larger launch pad to where…people will create their microcinemas or…create their own screening series, regardless of how DIY it is.”

At the end of the day, Nguyen says his hope is that Spacy will help lead to “a larger cultivation of people…all working together.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with, donating to, or attending a screening at Spacy can find more information on the theater’s website.

Author

Austin Zook

Austin Zook

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