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Kristian Connelly: The influencer at Cinema Nova

Kristian Connelly Cinema Nova

General Manager at Cinema Nova

"We’re the largest independent cinema in Australia and potentially in the world."

Kristian Connelly has only been talking for 10 minutes but three things are already abundantly clear about the General Manager of Cinema Nova.

One, he doesn’t love just movies but the entire movie-going experience. Two, he understands the subtle nuances that create that experience. And three, he takes his unofficial role as an influencer very seriously.

The first two give rise to the third, which has helped put Carlton’s independent cinema in a highly respected league of its own, not only in Melbourne, but throughout Australia.

“We’re certainly not the most state-of-the-art theatre but we put a lot of energy into offering a slate of films that can’t be found anywhere in Australia,” Kristian said. “The cinema culture in Nova is similar to that of London, Paris and New York.”

Take us through the cinema’s history.

Cinema Nova opened in 1992 as a two-screen complex located on the ground floor. Its founders came from two very distinct backgrounds. One ran the Valhalla Cinema in Northcote, now called Palace Westgarth, and the other ran the Longford Cinema on Toorak Road.

The Valhalla showed Blues Brothers, Rocky Horror and 24-hour science fiction marathons. It was very bohemian, very edgy and pushed the envelope. Longford was known for supporting Australian and independent films before they were trendy.

When the two collaborated on Cinema Nova, they thought that one theatre might be arthouse and the other repertory, but it became an overnight success that grew very quickly from two to now 16 screens.

What would surprise Melburnians most about Cinema Nova?

How distinctly Melbourne we are. I deal with people all over the country, particularly film distributors, and I keep hearing how they wish there was a Nova in Sydney or Brisbane. We’re the largest independent cinema in Australia and potentially in the world.

Do you know what Nova’s first films were?

I found a copy of the poster for you. One was Mediterraneo, an Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. The other was a little independent film, The Favour, The Watch And The Very Big Fish, by an Australian filmmaker. Both are representative of what we bring to the screen today.

What do you love about your job?

It’s an opportunity for me to play at the top end. I get to deal directly with distributors and filmmakers, and ultimately dictate cinema culture even outside Melbourne.

Nova has a large influence over what is screened around the country. Cinemas in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Tasmania pay attention to the films we decide to support. And those films go on to become much more successful across the country.

What sets Nova apart from the other independent or arthouse cinemas in Australia?

It’s our ability to anticipate what will and won’t succeed. In the same way a multiplex would tip Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a big film, we’ll look at Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Birdman or Whiplash. Invariably, we’ve become very accurate in predicting what our audience will embrace.

How much of that is based on instinct?

A lot. But I also have a very good understanding of what our audience likes, which comes with working in the role for eight and a half years. It’s also being able to read where tastes are shifting. Our approach to programming doesn’t chase the dollar. It chases the culture. As a result, people really respect what we do.

There are countless times when I’ve had a very different reaction to a picture than other people in the cinema. I tend to keep my opinions very closely guarded for this reason. What then happens is that that movie will open and end very quickly at other cinemas but will have a life here that not even the distributors anticipated.

A good example is The Lobster, an idiosyncratic, black comedy. We opened that last October and became the highest grossing location in the world for that film. It played for more than six months. It was a movie that hit the zeitgeist in a way that is truly unique to Nova.

Do you also educate your audience?

Yes, we put a lot of energy into subtly pointing people towards a film through traditional mediums like trailers, posters and flyers. One example was a small Middle Eastern film called Wadjda. Because it was rated PG, it got a lot of trailering on other PG-rated films and was exposed to a huge group of people. That film was a huge success here.

We also consider whether a film presents a different culture or cinematic voice, which might grow our audience’s appreciation for a particular area.

How would you describe your audience?

They are very wide-ranging. We have the young students from Melbourne Uni and RMIT, and we have people travelling all the way from Brighton and beyond.

We’ve also established trust with the older demographic by bringing them films that engage and interest them rather than movies about old people doing old people things.

There have been a lot of movies like that after The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel but most are crap and we’ve passed on a lot of it because we don’t want to talk down to our audience.

Where did you get your love for the cinema?

My parents are avid movie-goers and they took me to see Australian and independent films. That fostered my appreciation for cinema. My personal tastes run the gamut. I can still enjoy a blockbuster but I find myself increasingly tired with what I see in multiplexes.

My taste now lies in the English independent space, which is growing in dynamic ways. A foreign language film always excites me. Not just the contemporary ones but also the classics. And what’s really great is being able to explore the future while also delving into my past to put it back on screen for new audiences to enjoy.

What is it like being in this part of Melbourne, especially on Lygon Street?

I spent a lot of my childhood on Lygon Street. My father worked in the clothing industry and had an office on Elgin Street. As a child I used to go to Johnny’s Green Room on Faraday Street and spend lots of time and money at the video arcade on the top floor.

The strip has become a lot more cosmopolitan in the last three to four years and that’s due to Readings bookstore, which is such an incredible space, Brunetti and Nova’s growth as a cinema complex. This hasn’t only influenced retail but also dining.

I’ve come to love this area in a whole new way. It becomes more appealing every single month, and it’s almost impossible to anticipate what small influences will grow into bigger things.

It’s also wonderful to see a strip that is such an important part of Melbourne’s cultural history find new relevance and new ways to engage with local and international visitors all the time.

In A Snap:

Fav Aussie phrase: “She’ll be right.”

Best place for late night pasta: Tiamo. And for pizza, D.O.C.

Best place to spend half a day: The NGV. It’s one of my favourite places.

Three must-watch movies this year: La La Land, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and at least one Australian film.

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