Trilingual Cinema offers indoor and outdoor shows

Founders build community over movies in multiple languages, including English, Spanish and Hmong

Trilingua Cinema is about bringing together lots of different kinds of people who maybe wouldn’t mingle in their everyday lives. And they are brought together to share the experience of film.
The nonprofit offers films in English or Spanish or Hmong on the east side of Saint Paul, since those are the predominant languages spoken in the neighborhood.
“I started Trilingua Cinema back in 2019,” said Geordie Flantz. “Sid Stuart and Ismail Khadar joined a little bit later.” The three are now co-directors of the nonprofit.
Flantz said he moved to the East Side in 2018 with his partner and a couple of friends. “We all bought a house together,” he said, “because we loved this neighborhood. And I also loved to go to movie theaters and did not find any currently in the area.”
After doing some research, Flantz found that there had been a theater on Arcade that now is an antiques and auto parts store.                                                                                                                                          
“From the 1920s to the 1970s, there had been three theaters in the area,” he said. Over 1,000 movie seats were available.
However, when Whirlpool and 3M moved out of the neighborhood, things went into decline, according to Flantz, and the theaters closed.
“So I was thinking about that, and I had an idea,” Flantz continued. “This has always been kind of an immigrant community, and it would be good to focus on films with languages for the people who live here.”
He was put in touch with Ben Werner, who at the time was working at the Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street. The organization showed its first movie in the summer of 2019. In winter of that year, Flantz received a grant from the Metro Regional Arts Council.
“Then COVID hit, and we collaborated with the Freedom Library and held a screening outside on its front lawn,” Flantz explained. “From the beginning we have tried to collaborate with social action groups on the East Side,” he continued. “Partly because I was new here and didn’t want to jump in and do something others were already doing.”
Early on Trilingua connected with Mary Anne Quiroz from Indigenous Roots and did a festival of short films by local filmmakers on East 7th. Dayton’s Bluff Housing Services had a parking lot where films were shown.
“From there, we slowly grew every year,” Flantz said. “We connected with Sia Vang who puts on Hmong American Day, and we have been collaborating for the past three years. Last year we showcased Southeast Asian film directors.”
Stuart said she came on board Trilingua Cinema while she was working part-time at Freedom Library. “I talked with Matt at Caydence Coffee and Records about a car show they were collaborating on,” said Stuart. “I told Ben, and he said I should meet Geordie. I thought I would do this movie thing, too. We all were just friends with Ben.” Although he has moved to New York, Werner is a member of the board of directors for Trilingua Cinema.
“Last summer we showed films twice a week at Sculpture Park near Swede Hollow. We brought hot dogs and lemonade and gave away free food with every screening. It was a nice way to meet the neighbors and show films,” Stuart said. “Sometimes we had a deejay come out and play music pre-screening. There was a graffiti festival, and we set up to show a movie.”
 Flantz added, “We tried to host a hip hop festival at the Arlington Library. It was a great way to build a following. Early on, we would put on these elaborate events and then get people to watch a movie afterwards.”
Stuart said films were shown every other week last summer. This winter there were screenings twice a month indoors at the Freedom Library, which continued into spring.
“We show films in a variety of languages,” Flantz commented. He said the type of audience is dependent on the type of movie being shown.
He said the films shown last summer, with grilling outdoors and families and children in attendance, drew a very diversified crowd of all ages.
“Folks from Cambridge 55 plus apartments came out and sat across the street and watched movies,” Stuart said.
Because Spanish, English and Hmong are the predominant languages on the East Side, Flantz said the organization has focused on films in those languages. “It is a little harder with Hmong, because there are fewer films, but there are a lot of local Hmong filmmakers,” he stated.
Stuart said the co-directors debate about what films to show, and other times field suggestions from their audiences. The films can range from current top movies such as “Past Lives” and “Oppenheimer” to a 2015 film about the Amazon, “Embrace of the Serpent?” which featured up to 10 different languages. “Every event is an ongoing experiment, and we keep evolving our theory of what people want to see and what works,” Flantz said.
“I don’t know if we have met our goal of building community,” Martin noted, “but every time we show a movie and people come, it is an awesome experience.  We see what it’s like to watch a movie with other people as opposed to streaming it at home. You react to something with other people in the room, and that’s kind of special.”
Flatz said the ultimate goal of Trilingua Cinema is to open a brick and mortar theater on the East Side. “We’ve talked about starting a youth job training program to help youth learn what it’s like to work in a theater,” he said. “We have also talked about the idea of having an employees cooperative. We have a lot of ideas. We’re always trying to get the word out and build a bigger audience.”
Stuart said the nonprofit is always trying to do things collaboratively with other organizations from the East Side.
Flatz added that Trilingua Cinema is all made up of volunteers. “We can always use more financial support,” he said.
Stuart said that Ismail grew up on the East Side, and she and Flatz reside there, so they feel it is important to be doing something that can benefit the community.


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