The birth of Cinespia
The first cemetery screening was Strangers on a Train in 2002, which drew a crowd of around 400, most of whom belonged to Cinespia founder John Wyatt’s cinema club; the name Cinespia itself is a portmanteau in Italian that roughly translates to “cinema spy.” A hat was passed to cover expenses, with a portion of the funds going to maintain the cemetery grounds, just as it is today. As word quickly spread of the screenings, the crowd grew to more than 1,000, though invitations were still sent via physical mailers and tickets were bought at the gate. In the past few years, however, every Cinespia screening has sold out online in advance with 4,000 people in attendance.
As Cinespia dives into its 16th season this summer, Wyatt takes stock of the cultural impact he hopes to have made on Los Angeles. “Creating a fun atmosphere, showing undeniably good movies, booking great DJs, our photo booths and other extras have been ways that transformed the experience for moviegoers. Alia Penner, our Visual Director, creates a whole world themed to the movie with props, decoration, installations and our portrait studios.” Penners’ photo booths really are thoughtfully designed portrait studios, featuring props and furniture worthy of the movie sets to which they pay tribute, like a hotel bar for The Shining and a campsite for Moonrise Kingdom.