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Where

Film Focus

The Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie Champions Film and Community

Writer / Shay McCoy
Photographer / Michael Durr

Indianapolis is a city of the arts. There are renowned museums, entertaining musical venues and murals that inspire. However, film fanatics and supporters did not have a place to call home until the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie was founded.

Louise Henderson, the executive director of the Indianapolis Film Project (the nonprofit that powers the Kan-Kan Cinema), knew Indianapolis needed a place for film. The intention was always to locate the cinema within the city, and the founders and board members settled on Windsor Park in the Near Eastside area. This area historically had local small businesses, and those involved with the cinema wanted to bring vitality back to the area. The cinema was originally supposed to be a converted church, but a crumbling foundation required a new build from local architects. The team at Matinee Creative, a local marketing studio, oversaw the brand development of the cinema and included vibrant colors with an art-deco feel. The name comes from a line in author Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Cat’s Cradle.”

The team looked all over the city and Henderson says “the decision of being in a neighborhood was very intentional.” Now located next to the new Amelia’s and Stomping Ground, the Kan-Kan Cinema brings even more energy and local flavor to the area. A restaurant was always a part of the original plan, and the Brasserie brings Chef Abbi Merriss, a James Beard Award nominee whose culinary talents brought incredible dishes at Bluebeard. Her expertise and strong management bring a comfortable, European menu that will change often. A full bar offers an extensive wine and cocktail menu. Henderson says “food and film go hand in hand,” and now guests can enjoy an elevated, classic dinner-and-movie experience. Concessions like popcorn and locally sourced beer and wine can be taken into the theater.

The Kan-Kan Cinema was slated to open in March of 2020, but the pandemic forced the staff to cancel all planned programming and events. However, they improvised resourcefully and provided film lovers with virtual showings and discussions, membership drives, and outdoor movie nights that helped maintain visibility and keep the community involved. Henderson was anxious but says the excitement, anticipation and momentum for the theater that hadn’t even opened was palpable, and she saw that the community desperately needed it. The cinema eventually opened that August with three screens – the smallest seating 35 people, the next largest seating 45, and the biggest seating 145.

When the Indianapolis Film Project members set out to found the Kan-Kan Cinema, they wanted to focus on four areas – film, exhibition, education and audience outreach. Their main goal is to show first-run independent films, many of which have bypassed the big-box movie theaters around the area. The cinema provides space for locals to host film workshops and compelling discussions that unpack tough issues and conversations around film. Festivals like the Heartland Film Festival and Spirit & Place have also been held in the venue. Collaborations with local film organizations have helped strengthen the community and showcase movie premieres from filmmakers in Indianapolis. Series are also a large part of the programming at the Kan-Kan, like a series for teenagers who are interested in film and potentially want to pursue a career in the field. Henderson has seen people come to the theater like moths to a flame, and says she has realized “the city didn’t know what it didn’t have.”

As the only local, nonprofit art-house cinema in the city, in February the Kan-Kan Cinema will show the foreign Oscar film nominees along with Oscar shorts. These include action, animated and documentary shorts compiled into feature-length films that normally would not reach a wide audience.

The Kan-Kan Cinema provides space for private rentals and local events, and even hosts movie-themed trivia as part of the initiative to be an integral part of the neighborhood.

Film lovers can keep up with the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie events and updates through their social media, and their popular and vibrant weekly newsletter. They have many local events and series coming up and will continue to bring in independent films to the city.

For more info, visit kankanindy.com.

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