Jazmyne Moreno, AFS film programmer, wants to challenge the way we watch films: Shades of gray on the big screen – Screens
Jazmyne Moreno (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Jazmyne Moreno has a “big girl job” now. This is evident by the number of notifications pinging throughout our Zoom call. “I’m in Slackland,” she sighed, pausing to respond to an email. Since starting her job as a full-time film programmer at the Austin Film Society last September, the 30-year-old has had to worry about paperwork, how many people show up for a screening, and contacting to new audiences.
“It’s 7 p.m., and they’re not kidding,” she said of the more mature crowds she now presents films to, while continuing to book Lates lineup, which she picked up in 2018 after programmed the ephemeral Deep End. Lates, dedicated to what the AFS calls “the new canon of cult film”, attracts young cinephiles curious to immerse themselves in the most obscure meanders of cinema. The springboard is Moreno’s prologues, which provide both context and comic relief. “I’d rather you think I was an idiot than feel like an idiot while you’re sitting there trying to watch that little 70s Czech movie or whatever,” he said. she declared. This nonchalance may shock the public of a Fellini retrospective a bit, but Moreno is not about to change for them. “I clean up a bit, but overall I’m going to be me. I was hired to be me and do what I do.”
“I was hired to be me and to do what I do.” – Jazmyne Moreno
Moreno’s career as a film curator began in a more intimate setting than the AFS scene. After graduating from Evergreen State College, she moved to Austin and landed the first job she applied for, at Vulcan Video. Working in Austin’s movie rental paradise had nothing to do with Empire Records (“It’s just old folks yelling at you for a WWII handout or something most of the time”), she got to know people’s true taste in video content. “Everyone wants to tell you that he watches Truffaut,” she recalls. “No, you’re not. You’re watching six seasons of Friendsthat’s what you’re looking at.”
She was at Vulcan when Mike Nicolai, production manager of the iconic bar The Hole in the Wall, stopped by and asked if anyone would like to organize and run movie screenings at the dive bar. Moreno accepted the challenge, seeing the Drag institution as the perfect training ground to decipher what gets people’s attention (boobs and ass, people). After that experience, Moreno moved his niche film proselytizing to Alamo Drafthouse before landing at the Austin Film Society.
Accessibility is important to Moreno. “I want people to feel like they can come in and they don’t need four years of school plus six more,” she said. But she does not program films with everyone in mind. “You’re never going to please everyone,” she insists from the other side of the screen. “And if you’re trying to be as harmless as possible, there’s always something…Art itself is about challenging. So why am I watering this down for someone? Why am I trying to only expose them to things that will make them comfortable?”
If there’s an underlying purpose behind Moreno’s programming, it’s to steer viewers away from the belief that seeing a movie is pure entertainment. The films she selects – whether it’s a Nazi pedophile doctor, thugs or the infamous Serge Gainsbourg I love you too – probing dark aspects of the human psyche and may cause discomfort in doing so. In January, she showed Innocence, the disturbing fairy tale by Lucile Hadíhaliloviá about a school where young girls are led to a mysterious destiny. “You watch little girls twirling around and running naked in some scenes,” she explained.
Earlier this month, Moreno presented two films that carry significant baggage. Himizu, Sion Sono’s 2011 dystopian coming-of-age tale, is best known as the favorite film of terrorist and white supremacist Dylann Roof. The film is the ultimate case study in the danger of liberating labor around the world. “I think once a work is there, it doesn’t belong to the artist,” she said. “It’s no longer up to the artist to dictate how people interact with their work.” Roof’s instrumentalization of the film also challenges Moreno’s own beliefs: “It’s like, how far can you go and say, ‘Well, it’s all up to you’?”
Romance, Catherine Breillat’s already subversive 1999 erotic melodrama, sparked controversy in February when its lead actress, Caroline Ducey, advanced the allegation that Breillat tricked a male actor into “trying to penetrate” her in a scene of rape. The presentation of the film and its context gave Moreno the opportunity to question the characterization of Breillat as a feminist filmmaker. “Just because something is done by a woman doesn’t mean that woman always thinks of all women. … [Breillat] has no other interest in mind than his own.”
Moreno objects to asking an individual to represent a community. As a black woman interacting with Austin’s predominantly white audience, she is regularly confronted with people’s desire to give her authority over black identity as portrayed in film. “I call it being the black sherpa. I have to guide unhappy white people to enlightenment. And it’s an uncomfortable position for me.” She doesn’t want to be anyone’s guide, especially for an audience that rarely shows up for movies with more complex black narratives. “People will go out to watch poor black people. People will go out to watch any Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated movie. But they’re not just going to go out and watch most black movies,” she said. . I would like to think that people would like to learn about other cultures through cinema, and you may realize [it’s] just a few crops.”
The embrace of contemporary cinema with moralizing undertones and the correlation between content and political identification bother Moreno. “You’re either here or there, and it’s black on white, and you support this or you support that,” she said. “It’s about morality and showing that we are good people through the art we support and through the cinema we support.”
She compares watching today’s movies to “reading an essay” and getting pounded in the head with a pre-digested theory. “I don’t feel like there are any questions anymore,” she said. “I don’t feel like people are asking questions. They just constantly shout the answers.” As a spectator and programmer, Moreno rejects order and “false-deep” narratives. The films she shows are often radical, but perhaps the most revolutionary gesture she makes is to take her viewers seriously by not imposing an interpretation on any of them. It offers the space for an experience, with the freedom to hate, love or not quite understand. “The things I program aren’t subtle. But I think the approach is a bit different in that there is some ambiguity.”