Devin, The Drafthouse, and Me

Our chief film critic ponders what it means to do the right thing in these turbulent times.

Jesus Christ, this fucking year. Let’s start off with a positive: My favorite thing about the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission is the zero-tolerance phone policy.

I saw My Little Pony: The Movie a dozen times at three different Cinemark multiplexes during its five-week run, beating my previous record of seeing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me four times during its far briefer 1992 release. My first Pony viewing was the press screening, and I was alone in the theater on the ninth and 12th occasions, but for at least six of those other showings there was a parent who spent much of the movie browsing on their phone. Cinemark employees don’t get paid enough to police phone usage, and on those occasions I did kinda wish I was at the New Mission.

But I was ultimately glad the movie never played there, since the whole Drafthouse concept has gotten icky to me. Well, ickier.

I’ve only seen four films at the New Mission since it opened in December 2015: press screenings of The Neon Demon and The Disaster Artist, It Comes at Night for free on my birthday, and Star Trek Beyond. The Drafthouse has always felt like an epicenter of the beard-and-plaid-shirt strain of bro culture, and I am repulsed by all things bro-related. (And yes, that includes the word “Brony,” the pervasiveness of which I consider the worst thing to happen to the My Little Pony brand in its 36-year history. For further reading, may I recommend Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony, 1981-2016, now available at popular prices?)

Indeed, I’d been nervous about the Drafthouse since seeing footage of the “Air Sex World Championships” from the flagship theater in Austin, in which horrible people — mostly scrubby boys — “fuck the air.” Ew ew ew gross gross gross, and it’s a thing that actually happens.

Thankfully, as near as I can tell, the last time it happened in San Francisco was at the Elbo Room in August 2013, two and a half years before the New Mission opened. And, fine. Great. As sex goes, it’s the very definition of consensual. The problem is the non-consensual touching that’s been associated with the Drafthouse.

As has often been the case for 2017, it wasn’t even non-consensual touching from this decade. In October 2016, Devin Faraci stepped down as the editor-in-chief of the Drafthouse-owned blog Birth.Movies.Death — originally called “Badass Digest,” which, ugh — after being accused of repeatedly sticking his hands down a woman’s pants in 2004, charges he did not deny.

The now-44-year-old Faraci had always behaved like a 14-year-old bully. He harassed Damon Lindelof off of Twitter, told screenwriter John Gary and critic Greg Cwik to kill themselves, and indulged in general assholery both online and off because there were no consequences for his Drafthouse-enabled actions. Oh, and the 2004 assault came up because the self-described “male feminist” — a phrase so tin-eared he might as well have described himself as a “women’s libber” — was attempting to take a moral high ground about the Access Hollywood recording of Trump.

After that, we had a seemingly Faraci-free internet for 11 months! Everything else was going to shit, what with the other pussy-grabber having been elected president, but the internet was still infinitesimally better. Then Farcaci’s byline started appearing on blurbs for the Drafthouse’s horror-or-whatever Fantastic Fest in September, and the shit hitting the fan splattered farther and wider when it was discovered that CEO Tim League had quietly rehired Faraci earlier in the year.

In a Facebook post that (of course) he eventually deleted, League wrote, “I understand there’s some discomfort with the idea that Devin is once again employed by the Alamo Drafthouse.”

Discomfort with you rehiring a known bully and sexual assaulter, you say? Go on!

“However,” he continued, “I am very much an advocate for granting people second chances, and I believe that Devin deserves one.”

Were there hundreds if not thousands of writers of all genders and orientations who could do Faraci’s job as well or better than him without also being a lumbering embodiment of poisonous male entitlement? Sure, but bros before hos, yo.

This all broke just as I was gearing up to write about the Fantastic Fest’s first New Mission incarnation for SF Weekly. We each have to deal with these situations on an individual basis, and my reckoning was whether I could continue to promote Drafthouse events and movies with a clear conscience. The vagaries of both my schedule and the paper’s already make it tricky to scrounge up four movies or festivals to write about every week, so I had to wonder: Would choosing to professionally boycott the Drafthouse be an act of self-ownage akin to the Sean Hannity fans who destroyed their Keurig coffee machines to show their support for a pedophile judge?

And would it matter if I did? Joe Dante’s super-rare The Movie Orgy played to an only half-full Roxie despite my proselytizing; I doubt anyone decided to watch The Book of Life instead of Coco after reading my review of the latter; my book Ponyville Confidential is unlikely to experience a spike in sales just because I’ve now mentioned it twice in this essay — even though it makes a great Christmas gift! — and neither this nor anything else I write or don’t write will have any impact on attendance at the New Mission. To be clear, I am deeply grateful to have this forum, which allows me to add my voice to the discourse, but film critics often have an overinflated sense of their influence. Especially Bay Area film critics.

I did end up previewing the Fantastic Fest in the Weekly, though half of my very grumpy write-up was done in blind-item style about Faraci and League. (This was all before the Drafthouse-enabled assault scandal involving Harry Knowles, which I can’t even address because every time I try neckbeardneckbeardneckbeardneckbeardNECKBEARDNECKBEARD.) And I’ve continued to review movies playing only at the New Mission, made more tempting by the fact that they’ve been the kinds of movies I’d want to see anyway, such as the documentaries 78/52 and Gilbert.

So, I don’t know. The ground of morality and accountability is shifting under our feet, and I don’t have a clear sense of what the right thing to do is — or whether I’m strong enough to do that thing — other than it’s up to the individual, and no two individuals are going to agree. When I wrote on Facebook that the Fantastic Fest’s implosion “has been rather fun to watch from a safe distance” after its programmer quit in protest over Faraci’s rehiring, a woker-than-thou acquaintance who’d never commented on anything I’d written before slapped my hand: “ ‘Fun’ may be a poor choice of words considering the experiences of those involved.” But I stand by my choice of words, because if you can’t take some meager pleasure in witnessing something resembling justice occurring in these dark days, what can you enjoy?

The Drafthouse and the Fantastic Fest are relatively new in town, but that doesn’t mean grody displays of masculinity haven’t found their way into our homegrown events. I was already disinclined to cover a long-running local horror-or-whatever festival because its unreadable eyesore of a website made this year’s schedule harder to browse than it was worth, and then its alpha-bro director made two posts for two different movies on the festival’s Facebook page. In addition to being in SHOUTY ALL CAPS, both ended with a hashtag spamdex: #HORROR #FILM #SCIFI #ADVENTURE #FANTASY #MYLITTLEPONYSUCKS #HORRORSTORY #HALLOWEEN #FRIDAYTHE13TH

Oooh, snap — he snuck in #MYLITTLEPONYSUCKS to signify that his was a manly film festival for manly dudes who like manly things! And setting aside that the Pony franchise is popular across age and gender lines, obviously people who watch horror-or-whatever films are going to think it sucks, right? At least I now knew his festival didn’t need to be promoted by this particular writer for this particular newsweekly. Hos before bros, yo.

After completing the first draft of this essay, and feeling pretty good about my choices, I learned that the founder and chairman of the multiplex chain where I paid to see My Little Pony: The Movie 11 of those 12 times donated $8,400 to the aforementioned pedophile judge. No wonder Cinemark employees don’t earn enough to keep people off their phones, huh? Jesus Christ, this fucking year.

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