At the convergence of two dead-end streets in Midtown, Santa Fe’s newest DIY art space has slowly but surely formed inside a warehouse from an idea forged in the early days of the pandemic. Its seed goes back much further than that, to plans that bubbled for years and, more recently, a Twitch channel, but if film fans and filmmakers Justin Rhody and Ben Kujawski realized anything during the dark days of lockdown, it’s that sometimes if the thing you want doesn’t exist, you’ve simply got to do it yourself, particularly if you have a vision.
As of November, Rhody and Kujawski’s progressive anti-profit arthouse theater flared into existence, and after weeks of painting, small build-outs, cleanup and logistics, No Name Cinema is open for audiences with a glut of upcoming programming. The way we hear it, too, the inaugural evening of films—including a short from local artist JC Gonzo—reached standing-room-only status. In no uncertain terms, Santa Fe was clearly thirsting for something like an ultra-indie cinema.
“I’d wanted to have a space like this, and had been hoping to for years,” Rhody tells SFR. “Coming from the Bay Area, there’s a huge world of...warehouse punk spaces putting on film programs. Very quickly, the dream actualized beyond the scope of what we thought it could be.”
Rhody and Kujawski are both relative newcomers to Santa Fe and met through mutual friends. With time between them spent in the Midwest, NYC, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and elsewhere, each came to underground, experimental and lesser-known film honestly; young folks with limited means will often wander into DIY spaces for their affordability and accessibility or in search of a supportive network of like-minded people, and some folks just wanna make movies. It’s a shared set of ideals for No Name’s founders, and both have worked in film through a variety of means, from writing and directing to shooting, producing and scoring. It goes back, Kujawski says, “longer than I can remember.”
“I was definitely the nerd punk,” Rhody adds. “I was lucky to escape where I was living in Michigan, and the nearest place I could move to was a college town. Bloomington [Indiana] had a small punk scene, and I was living a pretty impoverished lifestyle, but I happened across free screenings of films by Stan Brakhage and Vivienne Dick—stuff I didn’t know existed. When Ben and I talked [about founding No Name Cinema], it was ‘I wish this kind of thing was shown here,’ and ‘where in the Southwest can you see these?’”
Unsurprisingly, the answer to that question is very few places. Albuquerque’s been known to host more experimental offerings (tip your hat to Basement Films and The Guild) than Santa Fe, and though we have myriad theaters per capita (seriously, we have so many for the size of the town), spaces that lean into nontraditional, non-narrative or otherwise non-mainstream—or even the more indie indies—have been conspicuously absent. Rhody and Kujawski chalk at least some of this up to for-profit and nonprofit spaces. Commercial theaters’ money lust is apparent; even nonprofit spaces are beholden to boards and overhead and the whims of audiences. At No Name Cinema, the audience is almost secondary, which is to say its proprietors tell SFR they’re more interested in playing what they want to play and fully expect to have sparsely attended screenings. Still, what’s that old saying about reaching even one person?
“Under capitalism, everyone can be held back,” Rhody points out. “Here, there’s no profit or even likelihood of covering our costs, and part of the general attitude we have is that it’ll be free admission, people can donate if they like and that way [people don’t avoid screenings] because of financial reasons.”
“And our setup is pretty simple, so just the two of us can run it,” Kujawski adds.
As we speak, No Name is gearing up for a night of films that examine the moral ambiguity of the American West—an oft-romanticized subject. At the screening, however, a pair of films by Kujawski ought to set a more grounded tone. In the longer of two shorts, the mysterious Do You Think Jesus Liked Hardboiled Eggs?, Kujawski glimpses into ideas of faith, independence and reliance for a film that feels as subtly humorous as it does hauntingly sad. For the über-short Misery Machine, a blink-and-miss-it series of shots played under a banjo accompaniment almost feels like a narrative-free micro-documentary on car culture, and Kujawski will provide live musical accompaniment during its screening.
“I think one of the the benefits of our model is that...we can play what’s interesting to us and we don’t have to worry so much about what’s going to pay the bills,” Kujawski explains.
“Yeah,” Rhody adds. “I didn’t get into underground experimental and punk films for the money.”
“Also,” Kujawski notes, “I think Santa Fe has a reputation for being a town for older people, and there’s a lot of things that cater to that. I don’t think we need to do that.”
With that in mind, Rhody and Kujawksi have already started reaching out to filmmakers and similar cinemas about future screenings, rare print exchanges and in-person visits and talks. No Name Cinema has programming lined up through the middle of March at least, with more announcements coming soon; ideally, it can become a regularly operating community resource. There’s even a possibility for an event this March featuring low-budget UFO documentaries. Fingers crossed on that one.
“The stuff we’re showing? How much does it have to do with a Marvel movie? It’s something completely different, but we will destroy them,” Rhody tells SFR with a laugh. “Our screenings will be free!”
“A lot of people say to me that New Mexico, Santa Fe, Albuquerque—these are film towns, but it’s such a different thing than what people like Justin and I are involved with,” Kujawski says. “We know there are filmmakers here, and I think No Name could be something that brings filmmakers together and forms a community.”
Follow No Name Cinema on Instagram (@noname.cinema)
No Name Cinema Screening: 7:30 pm Saturday, Dec. 11. Free. No Name Cinema, 2013 Piñon St., nonamecinema.org
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that No Name Cinema would be screening Rancho Deluxe at Saturday’s event.