This documentary portrait of theater operator Nicolas “Nick” Nicolaou moves from 1970s Times Square adult film houses through decades of city regulation, chain takeovers, and cultural shifts, charting a charming odyssey through the history of film exhibition and New York City. Abel Ferrara traces the life and work of friend and fellow cinephile Nicolaou, a Cypriot immigrant who began working as a teenager in small neighborhood movie theaters around Manhattan, defying gentrification, changing viewing habits and corporate dominance in the 1980s, only to emerge decades later as one of New York City’s last independent theater owners. A moving tribute to friendship, tenacity and the love of cinema, The Projectionist is also a timely paean to what going to the movies is all about.
What We Thought:
Nicolas “Nick” Nicolaou is the embodiment of the American dream. As a teen he moved to the United States with his family from Cypress and through hard work and hustle, he turned himself into a movie theater mogul in New York. The Projectionist is a look at his life and his love of film.
That love of film is what I respect the most about him. Towards the end of documentary he talks about how much he could sell his theaters for, but doesn’t because he’d rather show movies than cash in on ridiculous New York real estate prices. In the film he talks to regular, every day people about the movies they are seeing, what they liked about them and what not. He talks with a couple of film students as well. The man simply loves movies.
It opens with his rise as a theater worker, seeing how things run and eventually saving some money to buy out adult theaters that were closing due to New York’s shift to a nicer area. He owned theaters that played adult movies because they made a lot of cash, but eventually they were frowned upon and like everything else in life, they go mainstream and franchised.
It’s that corporate roadblock that is killing/has killed small independent theaters in cities around the US. He talks about one theater he owns that studios refused to send first run films to. That theater never got first run films until there was a big enough outcry and he fought long enough to get them. The theater then boomed because the neighborhood showed up to see the new movies.
The Projectionist is a film documentary. It’s an autobiography. It’s an immigrant story. It’s a success story. He has an over-the-top personality and loves to talk about the old days, but you can’t argue with what the man has accomplished and how his love of film still drives him today to show movies to other people who love them.