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The Trylon Cinema’s Barry Kryshka: ‘Sometimes it’s kind of great to be small’

Like most of Minnesota, the Trylon closed its doors in March. It will reopen next Friday, July 3, with safety protocols in place.

Trylon Cinema will reopen next Friday, July 3, with safety protocols in place.
Courtesy of the Trylon Cinema

If you don’t know the Trylon Cinema, maybe it’s because it doesn’t squat like a behemoth in the middle of a parking lot. Or take up half a block in a shopping mall. To find it, you have to look for it, and don’t blink or you might miss it.

Formerly known as the Trylon Microcinema, the movie house in Longfellow doubled its capacity in 2017 from 50 seats to 90, plus room for four wheelchairs. Three blocks south of Lake Street, just off Minnehaha, it’s still a single-screen theater, like the Heights and the Riverview, the Trylon’s partners in various film series (Hitchcock, Film Noir) and retro ambience. It’s a repertory theater, which means it screens classic films, most on a pair of 35mm projectors.

Barry Kryshka, formerly of the Oak Street Cinema, opened the Trylon in 2009 and has run it ever since. Today the theater has a staff of three part-timers: Kryshka, manager Nikki Weispfenning (who also works at nearby Moon Palace Books), and programmer John Moret. It is supported by 40 volunteers. Some have worked with the Trylon for years. If you want to be a volunteer, you can add your name to the waiting list, then wait.

Like most of Minnesota, the Trylon closed its doors in March. It will reopen next Friday, July 3, with safety protocols in place. We spoke with Kryshka earlier this week. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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MinnPost: When did the Trylon close?

Barry Kryshka: March 11 was our last day. We tried to be extra careful. There were so many larger entities with bigger decisions to make than ours. It wasn’t that hard for us to close down, and it just seemed like the thing to do. Fewer people were depending on us. Sometimes it’s kind of great to be small.

MP: What did you have to do to close it down?

BK: [Programmer] John [Moret] and I spent the next few weeks calendar shuffling. We just kept moving things around. We didn’t know how long the closure would last. At first, we were like, “We can cancel until the end of March, and maybe move some of those March films into April.” Then every month we did it over again.

MP: What have you been doing since?

BK: We didn’t do layoffs, so we all had time to spend on projects. We focused on maintaining readiness to open. Every month, we would re-evaluate, shuffle films around, contact distributors and change dates. We had weekly Zoom meetings with the volunteers – all social, not mission-focused. We made some construction improvements. We spent the last two weeks figuring out how to mount the digital projector in the booth. I don’t know if people will be impressed or not.

At the beginning of the shutdown, we put out a request saying “If you want to help us, we’re a nonprofit, we’ll take donations. If you prefer, you can buy a five-ticket discount card and we’ll hold it for you and you can pick it up when we reopen.” We sold about 800 [Tishiro Mifune] T-shirts.

MP: As the lockdown continued, did you ever think the Trylon would not reopen?

BK: I come from running a retail business, and the Trylon is a nonprofit, but I still operate it like a for-profit. This season has been hard for me, because my approach to running any kind of business is to always identify the worst-case scenario. Like, “If we get a bunch of volunteers and rent this building and show these movies and nobody comes, what will happen?” We can identify that. It’s a little tougher when the worst-case scenario is “Everybody gets sick and a lot of people die.”

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It was hard to nail down what the worst could be for a while, and maybe still is. A couple weeks ago, the worst-case scenario seemed to be that our building could be burned down.

In April, we were running scenarios like, “What does it look like if we’re closed until September? What about December? If we open, but in stages?” I reassured myself by thinking, “We could be closed for six months and be able to sustain that. If we were going to be closed for more than six months, we would have six months to figure out what to do about that.”

So my answer is I never thought that [permanently closing] was a significant possibility. The bigger question going forward is, “Will people be nervous about seeing movies in theaters for a year?” If so, what effect will that have? Will demand recover?

MP: Talk about your safety protocols.

BK: We’ll run the theater with 20 out of 90 seats, a little below 25 capacity. We’ll require masks in the auditorium, and we won’t do concession sales, which would undermine any mask policy.

Barry Kryshka
Courtesy photo
Barry Kryshka
We will have masks available. They might be free, they might be “Give us a dollar if you’ve got it.” Something like that. We’ll have a temporary refund policy. If someone buys a ticket online, walks in and says, “I don’t feel like wearing a mask,” we’ll say, “Your refund will be on your credit card, no problem.” We’re not going to fight with anybody about it.

I’m trying to have some foresight into what’s going to be our policy when a person walks out of the auditorium and says, “Hey, can you come and take care of the person over there who took off their mask?” Whatever the answer is, we should think of it now, before we’re facing it, so we don’t seem confused on the spot.

I feel like a lot of customer service is signage. If you communicate what you expect from people, you can correct them when they don’t do it and they won’t be mad. If you don’t communicate it well and then you correct them, they feel like you tricked them into making them feel bad.

MP: So what will you do about someone who takes off their mask?

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BK: I’ve got nine more days to figure it out. At the moment, my plan is to talk to [manager] Nikki [Weispfenning] about that. She’s here the most and will be most involved. It should be that someone goes in with a flashlight and talks with them. But we shouldn’t make volunteers do that. It’s an ugly job.

MP: You mentioned wondering if your building could be burned down. Talk about the Thursday night after George Floyd’s death, when the Third Precinct fell.

BK: I was at home hitting F5 over and over again to refresh the browser. I was watching the live feed from the rooftop of Moon Palace Books. We had our debates about “Should we camp out at the movie theater? What’s the smart thing to do?” We didn’t go. I still don’t know if that would have been smarter.

What I heard going around was that store owners who were at their stores overnight on Lake Street and were just conversational to anyone who walked past were totally fine. All the neighborhood groups were like, “We should just engage with people and not be hostile. We should take a ‘Hey, how are you?’ approach.”

We thought about that. We kind of figured – a movie theater burns down, you can rebuild a movie theater. We built it once, we can probably build it again. Mostly, we all holed up, watching the courtyard security camera every now and then. On Thursday night, the power went out for a while, so the cameras went down for a while. On Friday morning, we thought, “Let’s drive to the theater and see if it’s there.”

It was. I don’t think it was even tagged.

Ricardo [Levins] Morales has a poster art studio in our building, between Two Bettys and Peace Coffee, facing Minnehaha. At 1 a.m. or later, Ricardo was tweeting, “The studio door is unlocked, the lights are on, it’s quiet in here, there is tea, anyone is welcome. We’re two blocks south of the police precinct, and if anyone is overwhelmed by what’s going on and needs a space that’s quiet, we’ll be here.”

I feel like I should give him a lot of the credit. That was the brave thing to do. I’ll bet that also played a role in the building being calm through that night.”

MP: As you look forward to your reopening next Friday, what else would you like people to know?

BK: Anyone out there who is uncomfortable being in a movie theater for two hours to watch a movie in this pandemic should not feel they need to be here to support us. Our organization is solid. If it takes someone six months before they’re comfortable coming back here, we’ll be here in six months. We want to make that the central message for our reopening.

***

We also spoke with the Trylon’s programmer, John Moret, about what will screen at the theater after 16 weeks of nothing. Here’s what he said, also edited and condensed. The links will take you to the page for each film on the Trylon’s website.

John Moret: Because we had to cancel so many films over the past three months, I had a huge backlog of films I was looking at. Then I realized – I don’t want to open with anything we planned. Nothing feels right.

Trylon Cinema programmer John Moret
Courtesy of John Moret
Trylon Cinema programmer John Moret
I started looking at what kind of film we wanted to open with. We’ve had this tradition of showing alien invasion movies on the Fourth of July. [Barry Kryshna and I] started talking about some of our favorite alien invasion movies. We were both like – “Attack the Block!” John Boyega [Finn in “Star Wars” episodes VII, VIII and IX] is so great in that movie, and the movie is really fun. Something about it embraces the urban aspect of what’s happening now, and the resilience of Minneapolis.

Our second film is “The Andromeda Strain.” It’s a film from the 1970s based on a Michael Crichton book about a satellite that crashes on Earth, and on the satellite there’s a spore that has a virus on it that kills a small town. Scientists have to rush out and grab the satellite and figure out what’s on it so they can come up with a way to stop it. Science is at the forefront. It feels pro-science in a way that’s really encouraging to me. It’s not a bummer, and it’s not macabre. It’s a heroic movie.

Our third film is “Woman in the Dunes.” It’s a Japanese film from the late 1960s. This guy is kind of an amateur bug scientist, and he goes out to this sandy, duney part of Japan where he’s looking for a new kind of bug. He misses the last train back to Tokyo and is stuck there for the night. The townspeople say, “There’s this woman who lives out in the dunes, and you can go stay with her for the night and catch the train tomorrow.”

So he goes and takes the ladder down to her area and stays the night, and the next day the ladder is gone and he can’t escape. He’s stuck in that place. There’s nothing that feels more like quarantine than this movie, where you literally cannot go anywhere. It’s a great cabin-fever type of movie, beautifully done, about desperation. I like it a lot.